August 29, 2023

Show this to your Parents: Scientific Truth about WHY Your TUITION is so Expensive?

I may be a university professor now, but I was an undergraduate student in college in the 1980s. The education cost in 1980 was about $4,500 per student. Most States provided about 70% of that to the university and the remainder, called tuition, was the student's share of the cost. It was about $1,200 a year then, which paid for an entire year (September to April) of a full-time student course load. Not $1,200 per course, $1,200 total. To put that in perspective, we could get a full-time summer job, make $500 per month, and save our next year's tuition after 2-1/2 months of work. Then the rest of the Summer was money we could use for other things. So how do we get to $15,000 plus per year in 2023? Its is very simple when you compare the education cost and the tuition between the 80's and now. 

I am a scientist, and I like numbers and accounting, so when my own kids reached University I did a quick calculation to estimate that the accumulated US inflation rate from the 80s until 2023 does not explain why tuition is so high. Tuition would be higher from inflation alone, but not that high. Tuition would only be about $4,500 to $5,000 a year based on the accumulated US inflation rate. Why is it higher?

First, I looked at the education cost per student. Indeed, I found out that the education cost has only risen with the average accumulated US inflation rate, just like cars, homes, and just about everything in the economy. If percentages stayed the same as in the 80's for tax collected and State support of a student's education cost, then tuition now would be about $4500 per year. Why then is it more like $15-16-thousand dollars per year? Simple. States have gradually over the last 40 years decreased their cut of the education cost pie. Now they may only provide 16% of education cost per student to the university. That is a big shift from the 70% of education cost that they supplied in the 80s. In 2023 who takes care of the other 84%.? You guessed it. The student and this is their much larger tuition. 

So we learn from those simple numbers that the cost of university education has increased, but no more than the average US inflation rate across our entire economy. States have shifted more the burden of education cost to the student and their Family. 

While there are many legislators, State and Federal, that oppose ideas like tuition forgiveness, the truth is that most legislators my age, also went to university in the 80s and they were happy to have their State provide their university with 70% of their education cost. They were happy for the taxpayer to pay for most of their education cost. How soon they forget their past.

While there are many Americans from 50-80 years of age who may complain about tuition forgiveness, any of them who went to college benefited from support from their State Government before they wrote their tuition check. They simply got their "tuition forgiveness" upfront which left them with a much smaller check to write each September. 

What do we learn from this story?

First, the divestment in higher education and post-secondary trades higher education is why tuition is so much higher than it should be. It is not price-gouging by your public university. 

Second, parents please ponder these numbers and think hard about who you vote into your State Government. Tell them that you want support for your Family's education future. Demand it for your vote. Our legislators in most States have gradually divested contributions to YOUR kid's post-secondary education. On average Families would pay far less in taxes supporting post-secondary university and trades education than they do now paying tuition. 

With fewer Americans going to university or college, we can expect a decrease in our economic competitiveness relative to countries that are increasing the percentage of their population getting access to post-secondary training. Who do we expect will run our communities and country as we retire? Our own kids of course. Is it not economically smarter to make sure we educate high-level skills to our kids and grandkids? Education costs are a drop in the bucket compared to the economic benefits they bring.

Ken Mitton

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