The Real Cost of a Good Education

Ali Lemmons, Copy Editor

From the moment we begin our education in kindergarten, our parents and teachers continually drill the idea of college into our heads. 

We strive for good grades, take on way too many extracurricular activities and do everything we can to get accepted into our dream colleges. 

Then, the acceptance letter comes in. Students and their families jump up and down in joy. They eagerly go to the college’s website to see what the next step is. 

Then, they see it. The price.

According to a graphic made by College Board in 2019,  public colleges cost an average of 26,950 dollars per year whereas private colleges cost a whopping average of 53,980 dollars per year.

These prices include tuition and room and board.

Now, this massive price is enough to put students and their families in debt for years upon years. However, this price doesn’t even cover all college expenses.

Just to apply to college, students have to pay an application fee ranging anywhere from 15 to 75 dollars. Additionally, once they’re accepted, students must also pay a fee just to apply for housing.

Now, these fees can be semi-logical. By charging students money to apply, colleges can ensure applicants are serious and not just applying flippantly.

However, if a student ultimately enrolls at the college and lives on campus, there is no reason the college shouldn’t refund any application fees. 

Some colleges, like UTK here in Tenn., require an enrollment fee before even allowing you to apply for more scholarships or finish registering for school.

Once students cover their main tuition costs and these fees, they have to worry about affording school supplies.

According to College Board, students spend around 1,200 dollars on textbooks and supplies each year.

These prices are so steep that some students choose to take classes without them because they can’t afford to pay.

Obviously, colleges can’t be free or dirt cheap. After all, they have staff to pay, buildings to maintain and student needs to manage; however, these costs and fees are much too excessive.

One student paying 50,000 dollars for just ONE year of college is implausible.

Yes, there are opportunities to receive financial aid from the FAFSA or specific colleges, but most of this aid is difficult to receive.

For the FAFSA to cover 100 percent of a student’s tuition, their family must make at or below 25,000 dollars a year.

For families making an adjusted gross income of 55,000 dollars or lower, they are expected to pay around 3,000 dollars to 4,000 dollars.

As the family’s income increases, they are expected to pay more and more of their child’s tuition.

Obviously, not every student can receive large amounts of financial aid. However, just because a family has a higher salary does not mean they can pay the greater majority of their child’s tuition. 

As a result, many students are forced to turn to student loans to get an education. Currently, there are around 45 million people in the U.S. who have student loans. 

Collectively, this adds up to 1.5 trillions dollars in loan debt.

With the cost of college gradually increasing over the years, these numbers will only continue to grow.

Moreover, once a student receives a loan, it can take them years to finish paying it back.

The average college graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree takes over 21 years to pay off their student loans. That’s over two decades.

Doctors, engineers and other high paying careers will have an easier time paying off these loans. However, what about low-paying careers like teaching, social workers, etc.?

These careers require at least a bachelor’s degree to begin working. 

The average starting salary for a teacher in Tenn. is only 36,402 dollars. The average salary for social workers is 36,483 dollars.

With low starting salaries like these, students’ loan debt becomes more and more difficult to pay off.

Now, I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know a perfect solution to lower the price of college. So, until someone figures it out, I urge you to consider ALL factors when planning your future, especially the financial area.

Whether you’re a sophomore, junior or senior, be careful when considering where you want to go to college. 

Prestigious colleges may be alluring, but you need to consider the student loan debt that you might accumulate. An average of 50,000 dollars a year is a steep price.

If your intended future career makes a lower income, it would be wise to consider the cheaper, public colleges that won’t put you in debt for 21 years.

Whether you attend a prestigious college like Vanderbilt or a local community college like Motlow, you’re going to receive a valid education. The only difference is how much you’re willing to pay.