College Affordability

It seems to me…

It makes no difference how low tuition is if the student has no source of funds to pay that tuition.” ~ James E. Rogers.

The percentage of Americans who have a college degree today is no higher than it was 30 years ago[i]. How is the U.S. to compete in a global economy when we have descended from first to fifteenth in the world in percentage of people with college degrees?

The college or university someone attends is much less important than actually completing a degree; something only about half of all students do within six years. While students at elite schools have a higher completion rate than public universities and community colleges, the reason has much to do with the quality of student admitted rather than the school itself. The primary reasons for not gaining a degree include not being able to afford college, low grades, or being overwhelmed by the social scene and freedoms; young and first-generation students have the greatest difficulty.

Tuition has increased over the past decade by 25 percent at private colleges and by more than 50 percent at public institutions. This rapid rise in tuition costs has resulted in massive amounts of student debt[ii]. Working while attending school can help reduce debt but working more than 20 hours a week can lead to a lower grade point average and difficulty graduating on time. Even military veterans with the G.I. Bill are not completing college in hoped for numbers.

Prior to even starting college, students should fully understand the cost of their education, are invested in their choice, and negotiate a financial package prior to enrollment. The current system is obviously broken: student loans now average about $30,000 per student, loan default rates have doubled to 10 percent over the last decade, and real income for graduates (and their parents) is not increasing. Lack of understanding by students about their college debt is common; graduates have difficulty finding well-paying jobs, managing debt, and starting a home of their own.

Some assistance aiding students in navigating college selection might be on the way. Hopefully, by the end of this year, the Department of education will release the initial draft of a plan rating all U.S. colleges and universities on such issues as accessibility, affordability, and student performance following commencement and allocate federal financial aid based on those ratings[iii]. Currently, with students struggling under increasing burdens of tuition and student debt, students haven’t any way of determining which schools provide the greatest return on their investment – the ratings would aid students in evaluating prospective schools and force institutions to compete among themselves for successful graduates.

Colleges and universities are united in their opposition to the plan which they believe unable to adequately or fairly evaluate or compare institutions. They are all-too-aware that much of the federal government’s $150 billion annual investment goes to subpar institutions with embarrassingly low graduation rates or worthless degree programs. Academia also is one of the most powerful special-interest groups in Washington spending more than $1 billion and employing about 1,500 lobbyists a year. Enactment of the plan will be difficult since the average congressional district contains 11 institutions of higher education whose districts receive an average of $167 million dollars in federal aid every year.

Many institutions realize they are not delivering a quality product. Tuition costs are the same for the liberal arts major as they are for a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) major. Students are entitled to know their prospects at an educational institution prior to their enrollment. Given today’s excessive educational costs, we deserve better from these institutions upon which our future depends.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[i] Zakaria, Fareed. America’s educational failings,, 1 May 2014.

[ii] Sanders, Bernie. Sanders Testifies on Education,, 19 February 2014.

[iii] Edwards, Haley Sweetland. Should U.S. Colleges Be Graded By The Government?, Time, 28 April, 2014, pp32-35.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Academia, College, College, Cost, Cost, Declaration of Independence, Degrees, Education, G.I. Bill, Liberal Arts, STEM, Tuition, University and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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