It’s no secret that higher education is in peril. Declining admission rates, ballooning student loan debt, and an increasing number of alternative credentials as well as the diminishing value of degrees to employers have universities and prospective students on edge.
Institutions are certainly scrambling to figure out what to do, but there’s one issue that’s the massive elephant in the room none of them have addressed: the skyrocketing costs of attendance.
The old adage of being able to work summers and nights to afford college during the day is no longer a reality. Whereas inflation has risen about 55% in the past two decades as wages rose around 80%, college tuition and even textbook prices have risen by almost 200% during the same period.
These price increases are reflected in both public and private four-year universities, with the average public university tuition increasing 177% and private tuition 111%.
Note that these costs are all adjusted for inflation, which goes to show just how dramatically costs for colleges have risen.
People argue these increases are attributable to the rise in the percentage of Americans going to college. But total enrollment has only increased by 50.5% – full-time enrollment has increased 61.3% and part-time 36.2%.
And it’s not like universities have limited their individual enrollment totals. There are more higher education institutions today than there were in the 80s and 90s, though that number has been declining since 2012.
Prices being higher from an increase in the numbers of students would make sense if the supply of universities and their admissions hadn’t risen with the demand.
Remembering who college is for
So what can be done about this problem? It’s a visionary issue that universities are going to have come to terms with if they don’t want to end: realigning missions to be truly focused on students.
When a university looks at what today’s students and their families want, it becomes clear that lower prices is a big factor. They see the millennial generation being crushed by student loan debt, and they’re starting to think college may no longer be worth it.
Universities currently hold over $648 billion in college endowments. It’s no wonder students and even recent graduates feel left behind by a system where all higher education institutions
At the Fairfax University of America, we are charging tuition at a third of the rate of other non-profit private universities in the D.C. metropolitan area, one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the United States. And yet, we aren’t having to sacrifice the quality or integrity of our programs – in fact, we’re managing to make them better with our “business first” approach and a council of leading industry leaders who make sure what we teach is relevant.
Being a low-cost provider shouldn’t be mistaken as being a low-end commodity in this industry. There are very specific reasons we charge such lower tuition rates, among them being the desire to see students graduate and succeed rather than be saddled with a lifetime of debt.
We’re a commuter institution where education is the driver for student success, without the “frills” associated with a traditional university experience like dorms, dining halls, stadiums, and so on. We’re focused on business practitioners over tenured faculty, ensuring a competitive environment where student performance and not research drive excellence.
With a mission to focus on education under-educated populations, we’re a nonprofit, which has its own financial benefits. Plus, we have a streamlined curriculum where programs are market-driven and not based on bloated, non-relevant topics and learning models.
There will always be Ivy League schools whose costs are outside of the range of students from the lower and middle classes without significant loans and scholarships. It may not be possible to ever return to a time where universities are affordable with a summer job, but there’s no reason we can’t try.