Keeping college valuable

Sarah Howard

Higher education is flaunted as the key to a successful future, and parents are pushing their children to pursue it more than ever. While college costs continue to climb (our own University of Alabama tuition recently increased by $172 per semester for in-state students and by $500 for out-of-state), students and their families look for whatever will make it more affordable. As the next presidential election gets closer, candidates are grasping for the votes of this large and influential demographic of students. Most left-wing candidates are advertising their own plans to make sure everyone can get a university degree, and even current president Barack Obama is promising free community college.

The biggest problem underlying many of these proposals is their cost because offering anything for ‘free’ really means that someone else is paying for it. As of right now, the federal government has been using taxpayer money to subsidize universities for years and, instead of making tuition bills smaller, it has instead caused incredible cost inflation. Although it appears that public universities are less expensive than private ones, this is not always the case. For example, Hillsdale College costs less than $12,000 a semester for tuition, keeping prices low by actually not accepting any federal or state subsidies. Like any other service or product on the market, the price of education is set by the demand of those willing to spend for it, and as college becomes more of an expectation, the demand—and price—will continue to increase.

This rise in university enrollment not only causes a subsequent rise in cost, but it devalues the college degree itself. A high school diploma once was the standard to secure a decent job that would support a family, but now a bachelor’s degree is often required to even get an interview for an unpaid internship. Many people see education as an investment to a better career, but it is unfortunate that the same employment could previously be attained without such an expensive price tag. If the government strives desperately to increase enrollment and graduation rates for college education, as it did with high school, a four-year degree will soon be too standard and it will take a master’s degree or higher to have a comfortable income.

The current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, is attempting to attract voters with her “New College Compact Plan.” This plan begins by piggybacking off of President Obama’s idea to make community college “free,” but goes a few steps further. Promises such as debt relief, so that those who are still unable to repay what they owe, guarantee that education dollars will be simply given away to those who cannot afford it versus those who deserve it. Bernie Sanders is second in the Democratic primary polls with even wilder intentions to eliminate the direct cost of college entirely, relinquishing the burden from the student to the taxpayer.

As college students, we tend to be concerned with our futures quite often, and with these candidates, we need to protect it more than ever. The worth of our education could be at risk if we continue to allow those in power to look for short-term solutions to long-term problems. 

Sarah Howard is a sophomore majoring in chemistry. Her column runs biweekly.