Why is College So Expensive?

One of the questions families always ask me is: “Why is college so expensive?” Here's a quick overview on some history and how financial aid and loans factor in – and some good news for families who are feeling stressed out.

College marks a huge milestone for many families. The transition from high school to college is exciting, nerve-racking, stressful and incredibly expensive. As a college counselor, I know firsthand just how overwhelming the financial obligation of higher education can be. One of the questions families always ask me is: “Why is college so expensive?” Well, here’s a quick overview why: 

A brief history of college costs

The statistics surrounding student debt are certainly worthy of a raised eyebrow. According to Business Insider, 45 million Americans have student loans, which amounts to a national total of $1.5 trillion. When considering those numbers, it’s easy to understand why many of the families I work with stress over costs more than any other element of the college admission process.

So, why are U.S. universities leaving students with thousands of dollars in debt? The answer is actually pretty simple: more people are attending college, and because there are more students on campus, schools have to raise tuition to account for more financial aid, better housing availability, food costs and the numerous other factors that go into keeping a large number of students sheltered, fed and in a position to thrive in an academic environment. On top of all of that, many universities are upgrading their facilities, which also contributes to the rise in tuition costs.

Unfortunately, the price of college is steadily rising. The average cost of tuition at institutions across the country increased 3% between 2016 and 2018. Again, the rise in tuition is at least partially caused by the increase in students – Fall 2017 saw the enrollment of 20.4 million students, whereas Fall 2000 enrolled only about 15 million.

With the increase in students also comes the need for more school faculty. Colleges have hired more professors, administrators and building workers in order to meet the demands of a larger student body. And of course, all these people need to be paid, which contributes to the rising costs of gaining a college degree.

Financial aid & funding factors

The availability of financial aid is another factor that leads to tuition increases. As more students enroll in college, financial aid programs have greatly expanded to be as far-reaching as possible. But, when schools give thousands of dollars every year to their students, they have to balance out their finances by increasing tuition. 

Moreover, state funding to universities cannot keep up with the pace at which students are enrolling, so institutions have to turn to their students to maintain the funding that’s needed.

Loans add pressure

Student loans are crippling in many ways. Students often feel pressured to enter a lucrative career in order to pay off the loans, and they may miss out on essential life experiences in a hurried attempt to make as much money as possible. Also, graduates are currently struggling to achieve major life milestones, like buying a house, because of the strain of their student loans. For these reasons, many families may feel deterred from sending their children to college, or they may scramble to find as many financial aid opportunities as possible.

So what are families to do?

College is expensive, and that can be a huge stressor on many (most!) families. The price of college tuition is rising because more students are attending school, which is a good thing! Schools are being forced to come up with ways to accommodate larger student bodies, so there are more financial aid opportunities and better access to funding resources. Just remember, there’s a higher education option out there for every student, regardless of financial constraints.

As I tell every family, you need to consider your financial situation when helping your student build a college list.

For students who may not qualify for need-based aid, I recommend that you closely track institutional deadlines for merit-based aid and check to see if you are automatically considered during admission or if you need to send a separate application. Also, look for locally sponsored scholarships. Make sure you check the education foundations linked to your high school.

Need some help navigating your options and making the most of your financial aid opportunities? I can help. Let’s talk >

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