Middle class often left out of college financial aid

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Claire Gilliland, Editor-in-Chief

As college tuition and fees continue to rise and outpace inflation, the price tag for even public colleges and universities leaves students wondering why they must pay so much to pursue a higher education and if it is worth it.

College tuition rates have been rising since the ‘70s, a time in which it didn’t necessarily take loans to attend a university or college and obtain a higher education. Within the last decade alone, tuition rates have risen about 60 percent, according to the article “College Costs Rising Faster Than Financial Aid, Report Says,” by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel in “The Washington Post.”

“Colleges are putting the brakes on hefty price increases, but tuition and fees are still rising at a faster rate than the financial aid and family income needed to cover costs,” Douglas-Gabriel said in the article, referring to two reports released by the College Board.

“This fall, Harvard’s annual tuition and fees (not including room and board) will set you back $45,278, more than 17 times the 1971-72 cost,” John W. Schoen said in an article in CNBC entitled “Why College Costs Are So High and Rising.” “If annual increases had simply tracked the inflation rate since 1971, next year’s tuition would be to just $15,189.”

Public universities, like UCs and CSUs, have also been affected by the trend of tuition increasing. For many students, the only economically realistic option is a community college to start their education, even if they want to go to a four-year college and are capable of earning acceptance into one.

“I think [college tuition] is a lot, especially because I don’t get financial aid and I was denied Cal Grant because [they said] I don’t need it, so it’s a lot of money,” senior Brianna Phovixay said.
“I was going to go to UCLA… that was my goal, [but] my mom, who’s a college professor and counselor, and my dad, who’s a senior loan officer, both are considered middle class, and the tuition would just be way too much,” senior Rajan Nathaniel — who is now planning to attend Delta — said. “I mean, it’s $35,000 a year.”

Phovixay and Nathaniel were disqualified for both a Pell Grant and a Cal Grant because their parents’ incomes were too high, but at the same time that income doesn’t equate to an ability to pay for college. Upper-class students can often afford to pay for tuition, while lower-income students have the chance of financial aid in the form of grants and even full-ride offers based on income at some schools, such as Harvard and Stanford. Middle class students, however, are left in between, with fewer options.

Some students are disqualified for FAFSA, federal or state financial aid, because of their parents’ incomes, even if they are paying for college themselves. Others are disqualified for being just above the income bracket limit for aid, but still struggle to pay tuition. They resort to taking out loans, which can leave them burdened with debt after they graduate.

Phovixay, who wrote an essay on college tuition in her junior year, has done research herself into the rising college tuition rates.

“I just know it’s high because schools use [tuition money] for things that aren’t really educational, like school upgrades and tracks and stuff,” Phovixay said. “Upgrades and amenities are nice, but [those with no financial aid] have to pay a lot.”

Many other schools renovate the learning environment with amenities like Phovixay and Nathaniel mentioned in hopes of making the campus more attractive to potential students.

“Schools continue to compete for students by working to attract top faculty, build and maintain the latest facilities and offer the next generation of students amenities that can be touted on campus tours for prospective applicants,” Schoen said in the CNBC article.

New amenities on campuses drive up the cost of attendance so schools can indulge in an on-campus ski slope, which is featured at Michigan Technological University, among other luxuries.

High Point University in North Carolina has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their campus renovations, making the cost of attendance for an out-of-state student $51,105. The University of Central Florida in Orlando recently spent $21 million on their renovation of the campus recreation center. The University of Missouri’s recreation center cost about $50 million and spans approximately 293,000 square feet.

“Among the most selective schools, amenities have become an important part of the race for the best and brightest, and well-off, applicants,” Schoen said.

However, the main factor of increased tuition is not that supplying an education is more expensive, but that public funding and subsidies to colleges and universities are decreasing, meaning that students have to pay more now than ever before, according to Schoen. As states shift their focus on funding other programs, they are spending less and less money on public universities, and students must compensate for that in tuition. Additionally, federal loan programs have increased, and so colleges have raised their tuition proportionally.

For many students today, the cost of tuition and fees determine not only which schools they can afford, but also whether or not they will attend college at all.

Though data still shows that college graduates on average make more money than those who do not attend, many potential college-goers will decide if the cost, loans and student debt outweigh the benefits.