Despite the current state of affairs, more than three-quarters of colleges are asking for students to return to at least some in-person classes this fall. This undoubtedly raises concerns since we’re undergoing a global pandemic. The traditional college campus seems like a perfect breeding ground for a vicious virus.
While many colleges are cutting back on the amount of in-person classes and opting for remote learning options, many are still providing campus or nearby off-campus housing options. It’s simply unrealistic to think that these communities will remain totally isolated and properly socially distanced.
Pandemic aside, there’s also a financial component. While 93% of U.S. college students believe tuition should be lowered for online classes, in most cases, students are paying the same rate they were pre-pandemic. Anecdotally, I’ve even heard of some of my friends paying more than what they were previously.
It’s no surprise that this has led many students and families to reevaluate the true value of their college education. While a degree is vital to some professions, it’s clear that the price tag of a diploma has risen, without a dramatic increase in the delivered product. It’s high time we’ve examined what exactly is being paid for in the first place.
Where Does The Money Go?
With the average cost of tuition harboring right around 10K a year at a minimum (Excluding housing costs), it’s important to know exactly where our money is going. College tuition has doubled since the 1980s, with the average post-graduate student loan debt higher than ever, right around 30K per student.
It’s true that the demand for college has gone up— Many employers see a degree as a pre-requisite for consideration, but that’s not the main reason why families in the U.S spend nearly twice as much annually on the average student than other developed countries.
For one thing, our state funding cannot keep up with the rising costs of college. With more demand comes more students, more students more staff, and local communities are struggling to keep up. However, those costs have to come out somewhere, and unfortunately, that ends up being brought down on the student.
Cuts to higher education funding have led the average tuition for students to raise in all 50 states from 2008 to 2018.
However, even privatized colleges have increased in cost— No university seems to be immune to the phenomenon referred to as “administrative bloat”.
Public and private institutions are spending much more on administrators than ever before, while tenure positions are on the decline. Nowadays, 2/5ths of all the nation’s high education faculty hold adjunct positions, giving our educators less pay, benefits, and job security than ever before. If we want to start investing in our future, we need to start putting our money where our mouth is.
The Problem With Housing During The Pandemic
It’s worth noting that American universities are more likely to house students from farther away, which can get pricey. It’s no secret that America’s housing prices continue to rise, and this undoubtedly affects students as much as it does the working class.
However, one does have to ask why students should be asked to pay for housing during the pandemic when many classes are online or are expected to be fully online soon out of concern for public health.
I understand that Universities have a bottom line like anyone else, but asking students to pay full price for tuition/housing that during this incredibly difficult time seems ingenuine and predatory. It demonstrates a blatant disregard for the welfare of students proving that the bill is more important than delivering quality education that’s safe for everyone involved.
Even teachers are taking notice— Many faculty members are considering not returning in the fall out of more than reasonable health concerns for themselves and the entire body of students.
It seems that for students and educators, they’re left without a choice. For example, instructors at Georgia Tech need to “qualify” to teach remotely by either being 65 or older or having one of seven specific health conditions.
The crazy thing is, no one is doing anything about it. While at least 100 lawsuits have been filed by students seeking refunds for tuition and otherwise, the reality is that most students and faculty members will continue to be shortchanged throughout the pandemic.
Online and In-Person Education Is Not the Same
If colleges are providing a service, it’s clear that the quality of that service has dropped significantly. Therefore, it stands to reason that the price of that service should be lowered, especially if it means many of these students, especially those who depend on labs and hands-on learning might need to factor in supplemental learning as a result of the pandemic.
While in-person education is superior, we can’t jump immediately into in-person classes with our contagion risk being so high. Jumping the gun will almost certainly lead to spiked infection rates all throughout the country causing devastating illness. Opting for online classes is a public safety necessity.
At the same time, it’s not the student’s responsibility to pay the same price for a degraded education. Students should not have to make the harrowing decision between financial security and their future.
After all, we already do enough of that: Students still graduate with an average of about 30K in debt that will no doubt follow them well into early adulthood.
Reevaluating The College Degree
Unfortunately, the demand for college has made it difficult for young people to successfully enter the workforce without a degree. However, as we continue to see the value of the college experience declining, at least in terms of cost vs. quality of education, it will be interesting to see how we respond to hopefully better the system for our students.
As the situation currently stands, colleges are not treating students with even a modicum of respect that they deserve. Raising an educated class of future workers and families should be treated as a priority, not a bill.