Cost of College Degrees in the US skyrocketing – students struggling to cope

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Recently Bloomberg delivered a bombshell. College tuition and fees in the United States have increased 1,120 percent since 1978. The problem is so dire, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said, “For millions of young people, rising college costs are putting the American dream on hold, or out of reach.”

But it gets worse. Total student loan debt in the US now exceeds a mind-boggling $1 trillion. So says Rohit Chopra, the student loan ombudsman for the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. For the millions of international students forced to meet those spiralling costs in order to get a university education in America – 690,923 during the 2009/10 academic year – the situation is proving to be a monumental headache.

In a guest post today, Estelle Shumann, an online education writer at presents more evidence of the soaring costs of  US college degrees, and shows how some of the world’s leading educational institutions are grappling with the problem by working to make college education more accessible and affordable to students around the world.

Online Schools Rise to Prominence as College Costs Skyrocket

Today, more Americans are getting help from scholarships and tax breaks than ever before. Yet as the total cost of college continues to rise, families hoping to send their children to college continue to struggle. Fuelled by budget cuts, the average tuition at a four-year public university climbed 15% between 2008 and 2010, with states like Georgia, Arizona and California even experiencing increases of 40% or more. For families looking to send prospective students to private universities, the news is no better. In 2011, the Department of Education’s annual look at college affordability found significant price increases at the nation’s private universities. Fortunately, families looking for relief are increasingly finding it through low cost and even free online programs.

A recent increase to the pain of high tuition has been the stubbornly weak job market. Ironically, as more out-of-work Americans go back to college, demand for college courses is rising, causing tuition costs to rise even further. “As a nation, we need more college graduates to stay competitive in the global economy,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan. But if the costs keep on rising, especially at a time when family incomes are hurting, college will become increasingly unaffordable for the middle class.”

The federal government has stepped in to support Americans pursuing higher education with Pell Grants and tax credits. However, as assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Jan Eberly states, the programs have failed to “completely offset the substantial decline in support from state and local sources.” Eberly points out that tuition has more than doubled over the last three decades, while during the same time period, public funding has fallen by almost the exact same rate, putting the burden on family wealth and proving prohibitive for many economically disadvantaged families.

Despite the dire outlook, many online resources have stepped in to assuage some of the financial burden. Harvard and MIT have recently announced a new nonprofit partnership known as edX, offering free online courses from both universities. After beginning its first course, Circuits and Electronics in March, MIT enrolled approximately 120,000 students, 10,000 of whom made it through the midterm exam. Like MIT’s own OpenCourseWare program, students who complete the edX courses will get a certificate of mastery and a grade, though no official credit.

Offering stiff competition, Stanford, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania and University of Michigan recently announced their partnership with Coursera, an online commercial company that serves as a hub for students to find materials on a variety of courses from many different universities.

Laurence S. Bacow, a member of the Harvard Corporation and past president of Tufts asserts “Online education is here to stay, and it’s only going to get better.” He admits it remains unclear how traditional universities will integrate the new technologies into their standard curriculum, but the potential of online resources to ease the strain on economically struggling students remains promising. Though prohibitive tuition costs pose a tangible strain on students and their families, overall a college degree remains a strong investment. By utilizing government resources like grants and loans, as well as actively seeking out private scholarships and rapidly advancing online resources, ambitious and focused students can still pursue their goals and realize the dreams they hold for their lives and families.


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