Here's Why College Is So Expensive: The Answer Is Obvious (2023)

Both college tuition fees and student loan debt have reached sky-high numbers — leaving us all with the perplexing question: Why is college so expensive? The answer is a lot more obvious than you think, and is caused by a few simple reasons.

Here’s everything you need to know about the hefty cost of higher education, how we reached this point, and what can be done about it. We all deserve an equal opportunity to obtain a degree!

Why Is College So Much More Expensive Than It’s Ever Been?

Both college tuition and student loan debt are now higher than they’ve ever been. In the past 10 years, from 2008 to 2018, tuition fees have increased by a shocking 36%. And while inflation of course still exists, in the same time period, the median income increased by a mere 2.1%. So why is college so expensive?

This can be explained for a variety of reasons — including a significant increase in demand, with many more people wanting to attend college. And with such a competitive market, some colleges raise their prices to create a false perception of quality.

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Other factors include an increase in financial aid, a lack of funding from the state, increased student services, and last but not least, an increased need for faculty, as well as the need to pay them higher salaries. The hefty cost of college today has made obtaining a degree far less beneficial than it once was a decade ago.

What Do College Tuition Fees Look Like Compared To Two Decades Ago?

College tuition fees today look nothing like they once did. Here’s what the situation has become in 2020.

College Tuition Has More Than Doubled Since The 1980s

Students of today’s generation are facing financial struggles that were completely foreign to past generations. On top of the already difficult student loan debt challenges, students of today also have to deal with the increased costs of housing. To even just have the initial down payment for a home is a major struggle for many millennials after all of their hefty costs of studying.

Figures have found that since the 1980s, the cost of an undergraduate degree has increased by a shocking 213% at public schools, and 129% at private schools. As many of you are already aware, education does not always just end here.

Here's Why College Is So Expensive: The Answer Is Obvious (1)
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Where Did This Crisis Originate?

Past generations were able to pay for college themselves with the hard-earned money they made working over summers. Those that came from more well-off families were able to help their children pay for their education. But in the past few decades, public funding was severely cut, forcing colleges to raise their fees, and in turn, leaving millennials with no choice but to take out hefty loans. The rest is history.

What Are The Average Costs Of College?

Anyone preparing to attend college may be seriously shocked to find out about how much a degree really costs, even before all of the additional costs such as living, housing, and textbooks.

1. Average Tuition Fees

The average cost of college tuition (just tuition) was close to $7,000 per semester in 2017. After everything, the average cost per semester was calculated to be more than $25,000, which is clearly a sky-high number that a typical student cannot afford. Take note that these numbers are only per semester, meaning that the average cost per year is $50,000. And that’s just the average — not the most expensive college!

2. Average Student Loan Fees

According to Business Insider, the average student debt is $29,800. These numbers are not what they spent, but what students still owe once they’ve completed their degrees.

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3. The Most Expensive College

The most expensive college in the US is reported to be Columbia University, costing slightly over $61,000 for the 2019-20 school year. The fact that it’s located in New York City surely doesn’t make the cost of living affordable either, and it’s only one of many academic institutions with astronomically high fees.

Why Is College So Expensive? Everyone Wants To Go To College!

The demand for college has increased significantly in the past few decades, and as demand raises, so too will the prices. It’s a never-ending cycle of supply and demand.

The Department of Education reported that US colleges saw more than 5 million more students in 2017 than in 2000. What this proves is that despite the hefty costs of college, its benefits still seem to outweigh the cost. Nonetheless, a degree today is still worth less than it once was due to the increased cost.

What Are Some Theories On Why College Is So Expensive?

1. Financial Aid

Why is college so expensive? Well, while still debated, some theories have suggested that increases in tuition fees are caused by financial aid. The fact that there are more students who are borrowing money has caused governments to respond accordingly, which is something that universities started to take advantage of, knowing that the means are available.

2. Public Funding Can’t Keep Up

Another theory suggests that college tuition fees have been pushed up because state funding simply can’t keep up with all the students that have been enrolling. In turn, they have to cut down on their support for higher education, which leaves colleges with no choice but to replace that lost revenue with increases in tuition fees, paid by the students themselves.

3. The Salaries Of Professors

Since it now costs more to get an education, it also now costs more to pay people to provide students with that education. In order to offer higher education, highly educated people are required, and expect to be paid more.

4. Student Social Support Is Expanding

Much of a school’s budget is now being allocated to offering more student services such as healthcare and counseling. While these services are very beneficial for students’ well-being and academic success, they are also one of the factors that have caused tuition fees to soar.

Here's Why College Is So Expensive: The Answer Is Obvious (2)
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Is The Hefty Cost Of College Worth The Investment?

Although highly ironic, the more we take part and accept these increased college tuitions, we also contribute to making our degree less beneficial.

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In fact, figures have actually found that in most majors, 6% of college graduates are unemployed.

So if you’re asking yourself how worthwhile it is to invest in a college degree — that’s something that’s up to you to decide!

How Can You Pay For College?

It can be seriously overwhelming to think about paying for college with such astronomical fees. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of payment options that can help you achieve that degree.

The first step in getting help to pay for college is completing a FAFSA, which will determine if you are eligible for government aid, such as student loans or pell grants. It’s also important to explore all of your scholarship options and are offered generally based on financial need or on academic merit.

While planning how you will pay for college, it’s crucial that you start to budget your expenses, even with the additional help of financial assistance and scholarships. Get a better picture of how much your college experience will cost you, and you can start even before you enroll to save wherever possible — such as by eating out less or cutting down on memberships that you haven’t been using.

Always be sure to do your research about all your options and find which universities are affordable for you.

What Are Some Ways To Pay Less For College?

While college inevitably comes with a high price, there are still some ways to pay less for college, such as applying for financial aid, taking advanced placement courses, using dual enrollment courses, testing out of college classes, taking advantage of education expense tax deductions, and strategically applying to colleges such as in-state public colleges.

Online colleges are also a great way to pay less for college, as they tend to be much cheaper, and some are even tuition-free such as University of the People.


What Does The Future Of Tuition Fees Hold?

Unfortunately, if things continue to grow at the same rate, college tuition rates of today will actually seem like a bargain compared to what might become. Tuition fees are increasing faster than inflation and even public, in-state schools have been increasing their fees.

What You Can Do About It

So what can we do to prevent these increases? Online courses are a great place to start and are just as effective as traditional college. Online learning not only reduces real estate fees, but is also more productive. Schools can also aim to bring costs more in line with revenue, making fees more realistic so that students don’t leave in severe debt.

There is also a new concept known as the two-step college option, in which students start off their higher education at a more affordable college for two years, and then transfer to a four-year program to finish their bachelor’s degree.

Why Online College Is More Affordable

While it may feel like obtaining a degree is a hopeless dream only available for those with the means, the introduction of online college has provided more equal opportunities to receive higher education.

And although online college does tend to be cheaper, it surely doesn’t mean that the quality of education is any less. The costs are simply able to be reduced by studying online since there is no physical campus that needs to be funded, as well as other factors such as a dining hall and other costly facilities.

Online college is an effective way to manage to both study and work part time at the same time, avoiding student debt from building up. Saving on the commute to school also is a major time and money saver.

On top of all of these benefits, overall, online college is far more affordable than traditional institutions. Here at University of the People, we offer degrees that are completely tuition-free — creating an ideal option for students who want to graduate without putting a financial strain on themselves.

So why is college so expensive? Because we’re not looking towards other options.

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What is the reason for college being so expensive? ›

Over the last 30 years, tuition costs have soared for a variety of reasons. State funding cuts, expanding administrative staffs, and increased construction and facility costs all play a role. As a result, the average student debt among college graduates is now close to $28,000.

Why is college so expensive 2022? ›

Since 1985, the cost of college has been rising—most years, it's risen faster than inflation. Reasons for the tuition hikes include a loss of state funding, higher college enrollment, and the proliferation of student loans, which disincentivizes schools to keep costs down.

Is college tuition becoming way too expensive? ›

In fact, college has never been more costly than it is today. That's largely due to a convergence of factors including inflation's sudden impact on the tuition tab, rising interest rates on student loans and the market decline's effect on investments families were relying on to cover college bills.

Why is college so unaffordable? ›

“States provide less, and students and parents pay more,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. “Studies have shown that when state support is level or increasing, tuition is flat. But when state support declines, tuition goes up.

Why isn't college worth the cost? ›

People who argue that college is not worth it contend that the debt from college loans is too high and delays graduates from saving for retirement, buying a house, or getting married. They say many successful people never graduated from college and that many jobs, especially trades jobs, do not require college degrees.

When did college become unaffordable? ›

And yet, by 1970, college access was disrupted by double-digit inflation and a struggling economy. Tuition and fees rose alongside the inflation rate, making college — once again — unaffordable for many students.

Should college tuition be free? ›

Free college education may have a large short-run cost, but it will provide significant benefits in the long run. Policies that increase college attainment can pay for themselves because college graduates have been proven to earn higher wages, and, therefore, have the capacity to pay higher taxes (Deming, 2019).

Why can't college be free? ›

The idea of college being free could actually decrease the value of a college degree. Since everyone can afford one, it may become more commonplace and could lower salaries for those who already have a bachelor's.

Is the cost of college worth it? ›

Despite the high costs associated with going to college, it can be worth it for many people. You may very well find that your investment pays off in the long run, by allowing you to build a well-paid, successful career. Not to mention the invaluable life experience and connections you gain at school.

What are 3 reasons why the cost of college is increasing? ›

There are a lot of reasons — growing demand, rising financial aid, lower state funding, the exploding cost of administrators, bloated student amenities packages.

How many people don't go to college because it's too expensive? ›

However, the biggest cause is financial. Just over two-thirds of students who drop out of college do so because of money, while 79% of delayed graduations are due to financial difficulties.

Is college a waste of money? ›

It is widely recognized that attending university leads to improved professional opportunities, particularly in terms of pay. Americans with a college diploma earn around 570,000 USD more over the course of their lives than those with only a high school diploma.

Are most college students broke? ›

Generation broke: 1 in 5 college students have less than $100 in the bank! - Study Finds.

Why people don t go to college? ›

The study found that 38 percent of students didn't enroll because of fears about the cost of college and amassing debt, 27 percent felt college would be “too stressful” or “too much pressure,” 26 percent believed it was more important to work and earn money, and 25 percent felt uncertainty about their career ...

Are degrees worth it anymore? ›

Higher salary potential

Speaking of higher salaries, data from the BLS shows that graduates with a bachelor's degree earn a median annual US salary of $67,860. That's significantly more than associate degree holders ($48,776) and high school diploma holders ($40,612) [7].

Is college necessary anymore? ›

The Majority of Jobs Require College Education

Georgetown University predicts that 70% of all jobs will require some college education by 2027. Without higher education on your resume, it may be more difficult to find a high-paying job, and competition for available opportunities will be fierce.

Do degrees mean anything anymore? ›

A college degree isn't the stepping stone it once was to a better job and a better life. In fact, studies show that while less than 20 percent of college graduates leave campus with a job, a staggering 80 percent leave buried in debt.

Does college debt go away after 7 years? ›

If the loan is paid in full, the default will remain on your credit report for seven years following the final payment date, but your report will reflect a zero balance. If you rehabilitate your loan, the default will be removed from your credit report.

Who made college cost money? ›

In California, Ronald Reagan (who would later become president of the United States) was elected governor of California in 1966 and proposed that the University of California system should charge tuition to attend college.

Why was college so cheap in the 60s? ›

In the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, the federal government passed several pieces of legislation that sent more money to states to fund higher education and kept college costs down. More people opted to go to college because it was more affordable.

Is it worth it to go to college in 2022? ›

Collegiate experts agree that a college degree is still generally worth the time and money. Is A College Education Still Worth It? College enrollment is falling. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment dropped nearly 5% from 2021 to 2022.

Is college worth the money in 2022? ›

Going to college in 2022 is worth it for individuals who want access to more higher-paying jobs after graduating between 2026 and 2028. It's ideal for those who want higher lifetime earnings, too.

What should I expect to pay for college in 2022? ›

But some experts predict a potential rise in tuition costs for 2022-2023 in reaction to current high inflation rates. Full-time tuition at Bridgewater, for example, will increase by 3.47%, to $38,800, the school reported. "We do try to keep in mind that students still have to be able to afford college," North says.


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