Cost of a College Education

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Cost of a College Education

I attended the University of Texas at Austin in the 1960s. Tuition was $4 per semester hour, with a $50 minimum. So if you took the minimum course load to qualify as a full-time student you paid $50 per semester in tuition. I always took more hours than that, but after paying tuition and lab fees (I took a lot of science courses) I paid less than $100 per semester. Books would add somewhere around $75 to that.

Today tuition for a state resident is about $5000 per semester. Out-of-state students pay much more. I bought a brand-new car in 1968 (a nice car, not a cheap import) for $3200. The equivalent of that car today runs about $22,000. So cars cost seven times as much now. Tuition, however, is more than 50 times as much as it was back then. Books, too, are much more expensive today, but the increase in their cost is about the same percentage as the increase in cost of everything else, except medical treatment, medical insurance, and college tuition.

Why colleges and universities raised their charges so much? The short and easy answer is because they can. Way back when, there was no such thing as a student loan. Your parents paid the costs or you paid them yourself. Lots of worked while we went to college. We had to. We could either work to make ends meet and stay in college or drop out—and still have to work to make ends meet. There were some “scholarships” available, mostly quite small. I use quotation marks for scholarships, because these awards were not handed out to students because they were scholars. They were given because the student’s parents were members of some minority or ethnic group. Rather than let somebody find me, I actually applied for a grant from the university’s scholarship fund once. Even though I had no grades lower than an “A”, I was turned down. They could not find $100 for a scholar. As a result, I had to leave that school. If they had provided the small amount of $100 to help defray costs, I would have managed the rest and I would now have three degrees instead of two.

Today everybody, and I mean every single college student, qualifies for student loans. That means they do not care very much how much the college charges. It will be paid with borrowed money. Many graduates now leave college more than $40,000 in debt. It is crushing to many people who cannot find work. Some debts are exempt from repayment during times of financial stress. Some debts can be erased by the drastic step of personal bankruptcy. Some forms of income are protected from garnishment by creditors. None of these are true for student loans. You can claim three years of payment deferments but that is it. After that, no matter what your income or its source, the student loans must be repaid. They can garnish any income you have, including social security and disability payments. So if you are totally disabled and have to live on an income of $613 a month from SSI, the bank holding your college loans can take 15% of that.

Why do colleges and universities charge so much? Because they can.

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