People like Sandy Baum, who believe the unaffordability of college is a myth, need to look at the facts on the ground

Higher Education CostsThe other day I read Wendy Cooper’s post here on Quiet Mike about the government cutting nearly a billion dollars from education in Michigan, then shortly after while surfing, I came across Sandy Baum’s article on the American Council for Education website claiming that it’s an exaggerated myth that college education is unaffordable for all but the rich. I couldn’t get Microsoft Word open fast enough to begin spewing out my rant.

Baum’s article proposes some pretty ineffective arguments, such as claiming that despite higher costs, enrollments are skyrocketing. The article also brings up the common precept of college being an investment in the future, but then immediately acknowledges there are far too many graduates unemployed. It kind of defeats the investment if one is unable to get a job to pay back all those loans, doesn’t it?

Baum also blames the media for this “myth” of unaffordability, claiming the public sees the headlines about the most expensive colleges and tuition increases, and believes that college presidents can help dispel the myth by avoiding defensive responses to questions about price increases.

O.M.G. All I can say to Baum is “Get Real!” I wonder how much Baum was paid to write that article. Let’s look at some facts, yes? Are you with me?

In 2012, Forbes stated the average student loan debt in the U.S. was $27,000, which had risen by 58% since 2005, and subsequently reported that it had risen to $28,400 in 2013, with six states over $30,000. This year, the lucky graduates in 2014 get to pay back over $33,000 in student loans, according to The Wall Street Journal.

One would think Distance Learning would be less, right? I can tell you from my own experience that it’s really not much different, most online colleges charge the same fees (and sometimes higher) per credit hour as on-campus students pay, and then on top of that they add extra fees for using the Internet, like my school’s mysterious “Educational Delivery Fees.”

I don’t know where they get these figures, truthfully. Last year as I was researching colleges to continue my education, I was flabbergasted at the annual costs. I can tell you that it is very difficult to find many four-year schools that one can attend for less than $30,000. Admittedly, plenty of students are eligible for grants, such as the Federal Pell Grant. Assuming they and/or their parents fall into the low-income group and meet the qualifications, students can receive just over $5000 in a Pell Grant towards their college fees. Yes, there are scholarships, but only a percentage of students are eligible, and in many cases it depends on if one is a great athlete, a merit student or just flat out poor.

I must pause to mention that these costs are for 2 and 4-year degrees. If one chooses to pursue a Master’s or PhD, tack on another two to four times this debt. It’s common in the United States to hear students  years after graduation talk about their $100,000 and more in student loans.

The U.S. lags second only behind Australia in higher education costs, with the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates and Canada trailing along. Germany has the right idea, making higher education affordable for everyone, including international students. They’ve made it free, the last state dropped their fees as of mid-October this year. Other countries have free or minimal fee higher education, too, such as France, Finland, Sweden, and Brazil to name just a few. I am currently living in Mexico, where public higher education was only $527 per year in 2012. Unfortunately, I am not fluent in Spanish, so I continue to pay the ridiculous costs my stateside university asks of me. I’ll be paying back student loans well into retirement, at a time when I should be able to have enough money to live on. I won’t.

Higher Education Costs, chartCollege tuition fees have risen over 500% in the last 30 years, which is four times faster than consumer prices have risen, and if my math is right (one of my downfalls,) the minimum wage has only risen about 41% in about the same timeframe.

I hear a lot of students who think they can work their way through college and eliminate debts, and people like Baum believe high tuition is a great investment, so let’s look at some facts, in hopes to show the Baum-backers and the U.S. government just how ludicrous these climbing tuition costs are becoming and why they are excessive and unreasonable.

In 2012, more than 3.5 million people in the U.S. were working for minimum wage (or less,) and 53% of college grads were unemployed or underemployed. So much for Baum’s wishful thinking.

The U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. At this pay rate, it would take 4,138 working hours to pay for a $30,000 education (assuming the cost won’t go up, but you know it will.)

Since you’re likely working a minimum wage job, we’ll assume 86 working hours per month. Your gross income is approximately $625 per month. Along with paying for school you have expenses, like rent, utilities, food and transportation, not to mention cable or DSL for internet access, and the price of your textbooks is going to set you back a few hundred dollars a year. I try to always rent my textbooks in e-book form, which still hits me hard, but last term I had to purchase a ¼” thick book for $30.00! Some textbooks sell for $100-$200, even used ones! Need I say rip-off?

So for those young people who think they can work their way through college and pay off those loans quickly, forget it. Not going to happen. And you can thank capitalism for the overwhelming debts you’ll be incurring.

Higher Education Costs, cartoonThese enormous debts can and do fundamentally alter one’s life. Without an advancing career opportunity, many college graduates are faced with the challenge of trying to stay off the streets because they can’t afford housing costs due to student loans. Many end up with serious health issues because they can’t afford to eat or care for themselves properly. Those who do find a way to make ends meet struggle when it comes time to settle down with a family.

Dual-income families are the norm nowadays, and trying to raise a family while paying hundreds of dollars a month towards student loans is nearly impossible. Worse, there’s no extra money to put in a saving’s account, and a low-paying job is not likely to offer a retirement plan. What will happen to these young people when retirement age comes around?

To top off my rant as I draw to a close – while I was searching for facts to include in this post, an intrusive popup appeared in my browser window, telling me I pre-qualified for a $15,000 personal loan. Go figure.


  1. I was graduated from UC Berkeley, a public university, in 1959 and there was no tuition, only a fee of $72 per semester. Then it all crashed down when Saint Raygun was elected governor in 1967. He cut funding to the UC System and was heard telling one of his aids “Why should I pay for someone else’s college education”? The Saint Raygun became president and we all know what happened then. He probably cut the Department of Educations funding of universities across the nation. Now you all know, or should know what a cheap bastard he was. I will never forgive him for what he did in California.

  2. I graduated from Boston University in 1969. After five years, I had no debt because, in those days, if you became a teacher, 15% of you education debt was eliminated every year, and tuition was not bad to begin with. I just heard of a friend who’s daughter will attend BU, and the cost now is $60,000 a year! Wow, what a shock.

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