The day before my son Kellen began kindergarten, I woke up in the middle of the night and thought, “Oh no, my son is about to enter school and I haven’t put a dime into his college savings account.”
Kellen, now nine, is entering fourth grade and we have a plan in place to ensure he has financial access to college when that time comes. He is part of the class of 2024 and will graduate right around the time we are expected to meet our 40-40-20 goal outlined by Gov. Kitzhaber. Kellen, unlike many of his peers, come from a life of privilege. Both of his parents have Master degrees, work in education, and he benefits from all the perks an upper-middle class household provides. One of these perks is having the access to higher education after high school.
This isn’t the case for many Oregon students. We know college is important—especially for low income and underrepresented populations—and we have made college readiness a priority in our schools. However, the price of college, and fear of college debt, discourages capable students from enrolling in college. Moreover, those who do choose to complete four years of school and graduate are compelled to take jobs outside of their desired field that nonetheless offer higher wages, in order to pay off college debts. This can discourage capable prospective educators and to pursue positions that are more lucrative financially.
Students from the class of 2015 exited college with the largest amount of college debt in our nation’s history with an average of $35,000 of student debt per graduate. This is a $22,000 increase from the class of 1995 that graduated with an average of $13,000 of student loan debt,according to this article from the Wall Street Journal.
The unintended consequence of high tuition is a two-pronged barrier that increases the opportunity gap for students with limited resources. The high price of college creates barriers to access for students who don’t have financial means and creates an additional hurdle for those with limited institutional knowledge in accessing financial aid.
New York Times journalist Lee Siegel makes a compelling argument for reducing tuition by citing economic implications of soaring tuition rates, in his June 2015 article “Why I defaulted on my student loans.” The U.S. Department of Education reported one-third of students were delinquent on their college loans. It is evident that the growth in the economy is not keeping up with the rising cost of living and consumer debt.
So what do we do? Encourage students to take dual enrollment courses in high school to mitigate the full 4-year tuition burden; lobby for more reasonable tuition and college debt forgiveness programs; educate our students and parents on the financial aid process; push for stronger transitional support to community colleges?
Raising awareness can lead to changes that give every student—regardless of their socio-economic background—an opportunity to attend college without trepidation over their financial future. More importantly, it will prevent a lot of parents from waking up in the middle of the night wondering how they will pay for their child’s education… even if it is ten years away.
“Congratulations, Class of 2015, You’re the most indebted ever (for now),” blog post, Wall Street Journal, May 8, 2015
Student loan debt hits $1.27 million, grows $3,055 every second, August 13, 2015
“Why I defaulted on my student loans,” opinion, New York Times, June 6, 2015
- Student Success
- Equity and Diversity