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The History of College Affordability in America

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In the past, the expectation of attending a good college and going on to succeed in an honorable career has stayed strong, even in families where the chances of college success are extremely low. However, not many people tend to consider that not meeting these standards and expectations is actually pretty normal. Most students from low income families are simply not given equal opportunities to pursue the education they may dream of pursuing. For instance, imagine a world where every student, regardless of financial situations that are out of their control, has the opportunity to go to a university where they can truly prosper. This should be possible, and that’s why the United States should offer free education to any student planning on pursuing a college career, regardless of financial background because a free college education for all Americans would lower stress levels in students, and would most likely promote equal opportunities in the education system.

One of the main reasons why students have trouble choosing colleges is because there are so many factors that go into this process that are beyond their control. For instance, a major setback for many students at this stage of education is factoring in their socio-economic status and what they can actually afford in terms of tuition. But aside from just the students’ outlooks on this, there is also a lot of pressure on parents to provide a lot of the money for college funds. Despite the lack of household income within a lot of families, many parents feel that college may be the only option for their children to have the opportunity to pursue a fulfilling career (Hoover, 2013). This is often true as jobs tend to be difficult to find in America’s current economic state. Parents often feel this financial obligation weighing down on their children because, according to Ed. Gov, “Even as a college degree or other postsecondary credential or certificate has never been more important, it has also never been more expensive” (Ed. Gov, 2019).

Furthermore, there tends to be a vicious cycle between the difficulty to find jobs and the high expense of a college education. It sometimes forces those who can’t afford to attend a high dollar college to become unemployed. In order to avoid this fate, students take out massive loans that can loom over them for years after they graduate (Hoover, 2013). In fact, according to Trade Schools (2019), “In 2019, the total amount of student loan debt in America was estimated to be over $1.6 trillion (more than 20 percent higher than it was just four years earlier)”. This is an immense amount of debt, especially in just one country. Many students who go directly to college after high school are still around age 18, and having to make such a major financial decision all at once is bound to be overwhelming. This narrows down the choices for a student from a low-income family – they either must rely on scholarships, taking out tremendous loans, compromising and going to a low-rated college, or they must forfeit the idea of going to college in the first place. For most students, none of these options are ideal and can make college enrollment a stressful and unenjoyable experience.

Another reason students run into problems when choosing colleges is because, as logic would suggest, students with more privileges are likely to use this privilege when it comes to college enrollment. As cited in Matthew Chingos’ examination of different college plans and methods of affordability, he says that “higher-income students are more likely to attend four-year institutions, and four-year institutions charge more than three times as much as community colleges in tuition and fees” (Chingos, 2019). This lowers the chances of less privileged students getting into these schools, because in America, it has become almost common knowledge that high expense and Ivy League schools are essentially reserved for students who can afford them fairly easily. The reputation of these schools is upheld by the students who attend them, and they become unrealistic ideals and goals for students that are not fortunate enough to enroll, regardless of their hard work or intelligence.

However, not all hope is lost for students without hefty college funds. There are currently multiple different college education plans that aim to make a college education a more affordable option for all individuals. While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the plans make college a little more affordable, but are not necessarily a miracle cure for financial inequity. Take, for instance, Bernie Sanders’ and Hilary Clinton’s separate education plans, which were introduced in 2015. One of the main reasons the plans didn’t gain much traction was because of the underlying political climate, as they were introduced before the 2016 presidential election. However, according to David P. Haney, who is an investigator of this debate for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “This may appear to be a protectionist argument from a private-college point of view, but public institutions should be equally wary of the Clinton and Sanders plans” (Haney, 2019). Haney is suggesting that giving an immense amount of power to the American government for free education could be risky. The government hasn’t proven in the past that these resources would be used as effectively as possible, or with equity in mind.

Additionally, government-regulated college funds typically trickle down through big corporations rather than directly to students. Once again, according to Haney, “The obvious solution is to give more federal money to the students, not the institutions. If the Pell Grant program were restored to a funding level that would allow it to fulfill its original purpose – to provide a realistic foundation for financial aid – then the educational marketplace could respond to students’ and families’ choices and the diversity and vitality of our great regional public and private colleges could be preserved” (Haney, 2015). The idea here is that students should be fully in charge of the money they are spending towards college, as it is a decision both financially and personally that could likely affect them for the rest of their lives.

America serves as a constant example of a government’s decisions and their effects on the lives of citizens everywhere. There is no doubt that there are things America does well, and things that need to be worked on. Depending on how one views this situation, either could be considered true. However, it is clear that this country handles college expenses quite differently than most other countries that focus on education. In this way, the U.S. has far more costly standards for tuition. In fact, college in Denmark, Sweden, and Finland is currently free. In France, it’s not free for everyone but it is for low income families, and in Germany, college tuition has been entirely abolished by German states (Wiener, 2016). These countries are evidently making strides in the direction of free college, and America seems to stay put on it’s views of college education, as tuition prices continue to rise. However, the economy does not support this increase in expenses, and as prices go up, so does the unavailability of jobs. If college is the most logical route to a stable career, and stable careers are becoming harder and harder to find, the economy cannot continue to function at this rate. It is simply not logical for college in America to be so unaffordable for the majority of families, and it only contributes to unemployment across the nation. Despite this, in today’s world, the benefits of abolishing financial inequalities for college applicants would actually outweigh the costs or difficulties (Wiener, 2016).

The free college debate has been going on for many years, but despite the controversy, there have been several plans introduced to potentially fix this issue. However, as time goes on, it becomes more and more obvious that the students that are enrolling in college are the future generation that needs to be protected and educated to the best of our country’s ability. If America isn’t doing what it needs to do to support these students, the economy will likely continue to decline until unemployment rates are higher than ever before. Different plans have been proposed by politicians and professors across the country, but major strides haven’t really been made and the issue isn’t being treated as seriously as it should be. A major step in preventing this outcome is providing the support, finances, and equitable standards that college students need to succeed.  

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The History Of College Affordability In America. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 16, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-history-of-college-affordability-in-america/
“The History Of College Affordability In America.” GradesFixer, 29 Apr. 2022, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-history-of-college-affordability-in-america/
The History Of College Affordability In America. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-history-of-college-affordability-in-america/> [Accessed 16 May 2022].
The History Of College Affordability In America [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2022 May 16]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-history-of-college-affordability-in-america/
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