The increasing cost of higher education in the United States has been a continuing topic for debate in recent decades. American society emphasizes the importance of education after high school, yet the cost of undergraduate and advanced degrees continually rises at a greater rate than inflation. According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, cost factors prevent 48% of college-qualified high school graduates from pursuing further education (McKeon, 2004, p. 45). The current system requires the majority of students to accumulate extensive debt with the expectation that they gain lucrative post-graduate employment to repay their loans.
The cost of higher education raises several ethical issues. Among these are the perpetuation of the cycle of debt in American commercial society, the hierarchy of differing higher education institutions and cost, and the resulting socioeconomic and racial inequities in college demographics. Both an examination of the current trends and figures and a closer look at a real life example show the troublesome state of higher education and its effect on our commercial society.
The Facts about Cost, Financial Assistance, and Loans
Research indicates a steep upward trend in the cost of higher education throughout the 20th century. In recent decades, America has witnessed a widening gap between inflation and tuition. An incoming freshman at a typical college incurs charges for tuition, university fees, books, room and board, and other miscellaneous items. During the 1999-2000 academic year the total cost of attendance for full time undergraduates at a 2-year institution averaged $9,083, a 4-year public institution equaled $12,601, and a 4-year private institution totaled $23,617 (Berkner, 2003, p. 75).
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, 1999-2000
Institution Type Tuition and fees $ Non-tuition expenses $ Total price of attendance $
Public 2-year 1,558 7,525 9,083
Public 4-year 4,251 8,354 12,601
Private not-for-profit 15,031 8,570 23,617
Private for-profit 8,919 9,438 18,360
(Berkner, p. 73)
Since the mid 1980s, student fees have increased at a rate approximately double the rate of inflation (Hauptman, 1997, p. 24). A 1996 study by the General Accounting Office indicates a 234 percent increase in tuition and fees at public institutions and a 220 percent increase at private universities since 1980. This compares to an 80 percent increase in inflation since 1980 (Barry, 1998, p. 39). Families today spend a considerably larger percentage of their family income on college than families two decades ago. In 1979, the average four-year tuition at a public college consumed approximately 36 percent of a family’s annual income, while a private university consumed 84 percent. By 1994, the percentages jumped to 60 and 156 respectively (Reiland, 1996, p. 36). In addition to increases in tuition, an attitude shift in...