Because the only thing we do at College Possible is help students from low-income backgrounds earn college degrees, I’m often asked my opinions on the cost of college. Is the cost too high? Should it be free?
I can unequivocally say that college costs are out of whack. Since 1978, the cost of college has risen more than any other commodity. How much? Well, housing has increased 200 percent. Healthcare has gone up 500 percent. Neither of those is probably a surprise to you because we hear about them in the news with relative frequency. But when was the last time you heard about the cost of college tuition? You should be shocked to know that since 1978 it’s gone up a whopping 1100 percent.
Why are students graduating with more student loan debt than ever before? See the preceding paragraph. Why are more students than ever starting college but stopping out? See the preceding paragraph. College costs are out of control, and have been for a long time, but few people are outraged.
But does that mean college should be free?
I honestly don’t know. Of course it would be great if our students didn’t need to worry about cost when it came to going to college. I certainly believe it should be more affordable. However, I worry that to pay for free college, the government might end up gutting a different area that would end up impacting our students even more.
I don’t know where the free college debate will end up going, if anywhere. It’s a big proposition. I’d rather people focused on the dramatic decrease in need-based aid that is available. Over the past eight years that I’ve been at College Possible, I’ve seen need-based aid turned in to merit-based aid at an alarming rate. Funds that had been reserved for students who come from low-income backgrounds have been turned into funds reserved for students with high GPAs and ACT scores.
Because we serve students in the academic middle, that change means there is significantly less financial aid available to average students who come from poor families. Given the sad state of K-12 education in Milwaukee, we have a lot more average students graduating from high school than high achievers. These average students can succeed in college, and as a community, we need them to earn college degrees, but as available funds shrink that becomes less likely.
Our students need more financial options for college. Should free college be one of them? Maybe. But let’s not focus only on that. Let’s broaden the discussion to decreasing the cost of college and rising the financial aid tide so all student boats are lifted.