Financial Aid, Tuition

Is Higher Education in the United States Unaffordable?

Most students go to college so they can get a good job once they graduate. If an individual wants to succeed in today’s economy and become part of the workforce, a diploma is increasingly necessary.College : 401kcalculator

Yet, the cost of enrolling in higher education is only increasing, and students are graduating with more and more debt each year. For some, attending college no longer seems like an option with the rising cost of tuition.

The challenge is clear to students, families and leaders alike. President Obama recently announced he will propose a plan that would make community college free for all students.

How Much Does Higher Education Cost?

Between the 2001-2002 school year and 2011-2012 year, the cost of undergraduate tuition, room and board at public institutions rose 40 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The average cost in 2011-2012 for an undergraduate degree at a four-year institution was about $23,066.

Some students graduate with a large amount of debt, and the return on investment for a college education can vary — a student who studies computer scientist will likely have a much higher earning potential than a student who studies liberal arts.

Grants and loans are the biggest source of aid for students attending college. The class of 2014 graduated with the most student-loan debt yet, about $33,000. About 70 percent of students left school with some type of student loan debt, up from fewer than 50 percent of graduates just 10 years earlier.

There is often a difference between the “sticker price” of an institution, what a student pays without any financial aid, and the actual cost of attending, the cost after grants and scholarships are distributed. Many students receive financial assistance in the form of grants and scholarships from the federal or state government, the university itself or from private organizations.

Is a Degree Worth it?

In light of the high cost of an education, many are asking if a degree is still worth it. But despite rising tuition, a degree from an accredited institution is still important. People with a four-year degree earned 98 percent more an hour on average in 2013 than people without a degree, up from 89 percent in 2007.

It can be argued that the benefits of going to college reach far beyond the economic, as it is a chance for personal growth, and new and enriching experiences. But economically, the value of attending a university is only worth it if a student graduates and actually obtains the degree he or she set out to get.


There is little doubt that a crisis exists in the American system of higher education. The once affordable goal of a degree is still desirable, but it is becoming increasingly difficult and can seem completely unattainable. At the same time, the importance of higher education has only increased as students are being forced to take on more student loan debt.

Caption: College fund. Credit: / Flickr

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The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.

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