For many Americans, it's becoming more and more difficult to justify paying for the rising cost of universities. With the rate of American college tuition increasing at 8 times the rate of wages, recent grads are in a uniquely difficult position of either taking decades to pay off their student loans or, realistically, being unable to even make a dent in the interest that accrues as a result.
So if college cost is adversely affecting the lives of so many Americans, why is it so expensive?
A glaring rise in adjunct professors don't help matters, either.
A staggering 75.5 percent of college professors now are unable to attain "tenure track," meaning that they are relegated to being adjunct, or "part-time" lecturers for a university. Compared to the salaries that full-time college teachers receive, adjuncts are compensated far less: the average salary for an adjunct is $2,700 per semester course, with some receiving as little as $1,000. Which isn't a whole lot of money when divided up over 3.5 months.
This forces adjunct professors to overload their semesters with courses, and many universities have course load caps for teachers, so they are then driving to other, nearby universities to earn a livable wage. Which means less attention is given to students in each course, which in turn results in a poorer educational experience.
This makes it difficult to argue that American Universities are so expensive because instructor costs have risen.
It seems now that hard data is just now catching up with anecdotal accounts from students themselves that have pointed to a glaring issue in the US Higher Education system as well: there has been a sharp drop in quality in recent years. Other countries like Germany, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Luxembourg, China, South Korea, the United Kingdom, among others, offer markedly more affordable higher education options that are also, academically speaking, better as well.
Germany, for instance, offers nearly entirely free education, even to qualifying students who are citizens of other countries. All major courses are taught in English, and the quality of the education is universally ranked very high. One Redditor who attended University in Germany said they spent $335 in "semester fees," which includes a public transportation card that allows her to travel anywhere in the state. Also, book fees are extremely cheap. She says her biggest expense is coffee.
So why is college so expensive in America? Blame the student loan crisis.
There are some very interesting correlations to be made with legislation pertaining to student loans and the overall increase for the average cost per semester for American Universities.
When it comes to comparing the cost of any good or service, it's always important to adjust for inflation. USA Today did a wonderful write up cataloguing the increase of tuition since 1971, using hard data.
Their finds were startling: "In 1971, a four-year education at a private college in the United States cost less than one-tenth what it does today. Even after adjusting for inflation, a year of private college costs more than two and a half times what it did back then. This means college prices are disproportionately high for potential undergraduates at a wide array of institutions, and not just at the most expensive college in each state."
Your public higher education in 1971 would cost you $8,731 (again, all figures are adjusted for inflation — the '70s figure is actually $1,410). Private education? Way more at $18,140, which explains all the "snootiness" from folks who could afford that sort of thing back in the day, because the wide dissemination of student loans really weren't a thing.
But in 1978, the Middle Income Student Assistance Act was passed, which did away with income restrictions on federal loans.
This meant that anyone, regardless of their economic standing, could get a Federal student loan for however much they wanted. The act was sponsored by William D. Ford and supported heavily by Joe Biden, who, a year later, co-authored a follow-up bill that disallowed students from declaring bankruptcy on said loans.
Despite the bill being passed, income restrictions were reinstated in 1981, which caused a slight drop in public tuition fees, including room and board at $7,700.
Throughout the '80s, there were incremental increases in public tuition. In 1989, a 4-year school cost $9,560 total, but per capita income was at $33,345 a year, up from $26,765, far outweighing the $1,840 tuition hike.
During this time, Biden helped create the Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) program, and the Auxiliary Loans to Assist Students (ALIAS) program, in 1980 and 1981 respectively.
These initiatives gave third-party lenders the ability to extend unregulated loans to students who didn't have financial support from their parents. A 2007 report from think tank Education Sector states these initiatives "loosened loan eligibility requirements, together with two new federal loan programs, increased student borrowing from $1.8 billion in 1977 to $12 billion in 1989."
These initiatives inevitably also helped to drive up the cost of universities, as more individuals were able to take out private loans thanks to the new laws that "helped fuel the development of lending-industry giants like Sallie Mae by creating barriers to entry to smaller, newer companies wanting to enter the field," according to the think tank.
Biden's bankruptcy bill was initially vetoed by Bill Clinton.
The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act effectively implemented stricter restrictions on families declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy to default on Federal Student loans. Joe Biden had first advocated for this act during Clinton's administration, where it was staunchly opposed by other Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren, who ultimately lobbied Hillary Clinton to convince Bill to veto the act.
It, however made a resurgence in 2005 into George W. Bush's second term, passing with a whopping 74-25 vote. Then Senator Barack Obama had voted against it, along with several other Democratic leaders. The student loan debt more than doubled, growing from $55.9 billion to a whopping $140.2 billion between 2005 and 2011 (per the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau).
In 2005, public tuition cost $15,360, with per capita income clocking in at $44,460. In 2018, public tuition cost $21,370 on average, with per capita income at $53,697. That's more than a 5 percent increase in tuition cost to per capita income rate in 13 years.
One may argue that the ratio of private education cost to per capita income in 1971 is nearly identical to what it is in 2018, and technically they would be correct.
However, this doesn't account for a litany of other costs, like inherited familial debt, which was at a much lower rate in the '70s — now much higher thanks to the rise in student loans. Rent costs, property taxes, and other cost of living expenses, across the board, even adjusted for inflation, were, percentage wise, much lower. Plus, the collective national student loan debt in 1971, adjusted for inflation was 7.62 billion dollars.
Now? It stands at 1.56 trillion.