The enigma of tuition


As of right now, I can’t come back to DePauw next semester.

You see, I still owe the school around $3,000, even though my planned financial aid package I received over the summer showed that I would be covered, given that I took out the correct amount of federal student loans. Which I did. But now, I’m unable to register for class or access my transcripts because I have an unforeseen expense that I can’t afford.

I don’t have the money to pay this balance out of pocket. I don’t have a good enough credit score or collateral to take out a private loan safely. Neither of my parents have the assets nor the ability to co-sign on a loan with me.

Many kids from my high school used to complain about the sheer amount of financial aid kids like me (those who aren’t well-off) got from colleges and universities. This isn’t to say that those kids don’t deserve help, but again and again, the cost of higher education continues to take a heavier toll on poor people, even with a lot of financial assistance. Why is that?

According to CNN, 40 percent of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. When you owe even a small balance at DePauw, for each month you do, you are charged a $100 late fee. Yes I have a job, but I have outside expenses like bills and medical costs that I need to pay, and I am unable to set aside money to build an “emergency fund”, and many low-income families face this same problem. Living paycheck-to-paycheck is dangerous, but many people don’t have any other option.

But why does college have to be so expensive in the first place? Today, the U.S. spends more on college than almost any other country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Including contributions from individual families and the government, Americans spend $30,000 per student a year—nearly twice as much as the average developed country. This is not a compliment, or a show that we have better education than other countries. Spending per student is exorbitant, and seems to have almost no relationship to the value that students are getting out of higher education.

The only country that spends more per student is Luxembourg, but tuition for students is free, thanks to government outlays. A third of developed countries offer free tuition, and another third keep it incredibly cheap, less than $2,400 a year, according to the Atlantic.

In American, it’s a vicious cycle. According to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, by 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. It’s nearly vital to go to college in this economy. The College Board says that the average student received more grant aid than last year, but it isn’t enough to combat the increase in price.

I don’t know what will solve this. Free college would be incredible, but then you’ll get all kinds of people whining about the “burden” that places on state taxpayers. But I do know that colleges and universities, specifically private institutions, should be more open about where exactly the money is going. Students pay almost $63,000 a year to attend DePauw, which equates to over 130 billion dollars. But where does that money go? Obviously, a part of it comes from financial aid and shouldn’t be considered in total revenue, and there is building maintenance that needs to be maintained, but I don’t have the first idea about how to find this information out, if it’s even public. Transparency is vital, and without it, you’ll just end up with a bunch of confused and angry students, like myself.