Why is College So Expensive?

Why is College So Expensive

It’s normal for college tuition and fees to be rising. Whether you’re paying for nursery school, private elementary or high school, college, or university, the prices will be higher by the year. Inflation has that effect on all prices.

If you look at the information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’ll notice that the indexes grow. Whether it’s accommodation, recreation, or anything else, you’re usually paying a higher price as time goes by. However, the house prices and consumer price grow at a more rapid pace when compared to the average hourly wage. The expenses for college tuition and fees, as well as educational books and supplies, grow at an even faster pace.

As usual, the tuition and fees are expected to get higher in 2018, too. The current price for Brown university, for example, is $51,366. The estimated tuition and fees for 2018 are $53,468. As an average of all Ivy League institutions, the fees will grow from $50,268 in 2023 to $52,259 in 2018.


Ask any student or family with college students, and they will tell you the same thing: college expenses are getting out of control. Is there a justification behind the rapid growth of the prices for education? Let’s explore that issue a bit deeper.

Why is College So Expensive?

  1. Universities Are Subjected to Inflation

Have you noticed how your family is paying bigger bills for fuel, electricity, water, food, clothes, and everything else? The average salaries grow, too. The wages in the USA increased by 4.47% in January 2023 when compared to the same month of the previous year. From 1960 to 2023, the average growth of wages in the USA was 6.29%.

This means that universities are paying more to the professors, assistant professors, librarians, and all other staff. Their bills for electricity and travel expenses are higher, too. As a result, they have to charge higher tuition and fees.

Have you heard of the policy of tenure? Many universities give professors permanent employment after a probationary period. Regardless of their productivity, these professors are guaranteed employment for life. This is a contributing factor to the rise of expenses that universities have.

  1. Education Is Becoming More Important

Let’s rely on the details provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics again. You’ll notice that as the educational attainment rises in the chart, the unemployment rates decrease and the earnings increase.

People with a high school diploma have median weekly earnings of $678, and the unemployment rate for this category is 5.4%. In comparison, the category of people with a Bachelor’s degree earns an average of $1,137 per week and has an unemployment rate of 2.8%. People with a Professional degree earn $1,730 on an average, and have the lowest unemployment rate of 1.5%.

Is there anyone who doesn’t want a higher salary and higher chances for employment? That’s why more people decide to go to college. As a result of the increased demand, the price rises, too. That’s one of the main principles of economy.

  1. Competition between Universities

Every single university in this country is competitive. These institutions don’t wait to see how many applicants they get each year. They need to attract them. The educational industry is just like any other marketplace, and the student is the customer.

Thus, they compete for a higher rank. It’s a costly competition, since it means investing in new facilities, providing better food, implementing technology into the educational processes, and (most of all) marketing.

With the rise of students’ expectations, the investments on campus rise, too. Who pays for that? The students, of course.

  1. Less Government Support

Universities receive financial support from both the federal and state governments. The federal government support is aimed towards financial aid for students. The states, on the other hand, primarily focus their funds towards general operations of public institutions.

During and after the Great Recession, the states started giving less money to universities. Over the period from 2008 to 2013, the state-level spendings for general-purpose appropriations for institutions fell by 21% ($14.1 billion).

Although we recovered from the recession, the states are still funding higher education below pre-recession levels. 46 states (all except North Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin, and Montana) were funding less money per students in the 2015-2016 school year when compared to the amounts they spent before the recession. When compared to the per-student funding since the start of the recession, today’s rates are down by more than 30% in 9 states (including Pennsylvania, Illinois, and South Carolina).

Since the universities are getting less money from the states, they have to fill in that gap from somewhere. Any ideas who’s paying?

The Result: Students Are Drowning in Debt

The rise in college expenses is somewhat justified. But, are you really getting the value you’re paying for? That’s hard to say. Not all students are getting enough value for their money.

There’s another serious problem: unless you’re getting financial aid, you’re accumulating a huge debt over your years at college or university. The national student loan surpassed $1.4 trillion. That’s more than the total credit card debt in the USA. On an average, every borrower from the Class of 2016 owes $37,172. That’s a lot!

As education costs get higher and the growth of household income doesn’t keep that pace, we’re getting into an unsustainable situation. It’s hard to predict how much longer this trend will go on, but for now we’re still seeing universities rising the fees and students playing by their rules. Do we have a choice?

Is this a bubble? Will it burst? If the students and their families are brought to the point when they can’t possibly pay, the demand will naturally decrease. The universities will have no other choice but to reduce the tuition and fees.

There’s another possible outcome: students will keep getting into debt, with the intention to get higher-paying jobs after graduation and give that money back. Will this trend continue forever? Only time will tell.

Ben Chilwell
Ben Chilwell

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