Is college worth the cost? The answer should be a resounding yes.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, college graduates earn about $20,000 more than high school graduates per year. They also tend to have better health outcomes and access to professional social networks. Yet the fact remains that attending college is an expensive decision. As young men and women of my generation begin their adult lives, they are saddled with thousands of dollars in debt. Indeed, the Project on Student Debt estimates that average debt levels for graduating seniors in 2008 was $23,200.
Furthermore, Mark Kantrowitz at Finaid.Org confirmed that national student loan debt has recently exceeded that of credit cards based on data from the Federal Reserve. In the wake of a weak economy and record unemployment, cautious consumers are paying off their credit card bills, which has only served to emphasize the trend in high student loan debt. Certainly, the Obama administration has indicated its commitment to affordable higher education. In March, as part of the healthcare overhaul, President Obama signed legislation, which increases the maximum award for Pell grants from $5,550 to $5,975 by 2017. College graduates also have the option of limiting their loan repayments to 10 percent of their discretionary income. If they maintain their payments for 20 years (10 years for those in public service), the balance is forgiven.
These terms are generous, but they do not address the heart of the problem: the ever-rising costs of education in the U.S. According to College Board, tuition has increased more than six percent at public universities and more than four percent at private, not-for-profit universities just within the last year. In fact, Richard Vedder, director of the Center of College Affordability and Productivity at Ohio University, even argues that federal student loan programs have contributed to the inflation in college tuition. His research has drawn attention to the fact that enrollment figures have stagnated despite increases in federal aid. Mr. Vedder states: "All the talk about increased access, greater affordability and enhanced accountability is just that: talk. The three 'A's make for good rhetorical flourishes, but what is needed for real transformation and rising productivity is attention to the three 'I's-information, incentives, and innovation."
As purchasers of higher education, students must demand that their universities pursue innovative, cost-cutting measures while providing transparency on college pricing. More importantly, we need to empower my generation to make smart decisions about their finances now. We need to claim more "bang for our buck," at least for the meantime.
For my part, I remember the excitement of receiving college acceptances as a 17-year old senior in high school. But I knew the financial burden of attending some of those colleges would have been too great for my family. So I chose to attend the Macaulay Honors College -- a flagship program of the City University of New York -- that provides its students with a full undergraduate tuition scholarship and $7,500 to pursue research and internship opportunities. I was extremely fortunate; some of my peers were not so fortunate. But I remain inspired by the vision that one day, young adults will be able to pursue higher education regardless of their socioeconomic circumstances or the cost of college.
Anita Sonawane majors in economics at the Macaulay Honors College of the City University of New York. She is one of the Lead Policy Strategists for Economic Development at the Roosevelt Campus Network.