In discussing the outlandish costs of college, Jeffrey Dorfman, a Forbes Magazine contributor, said, “As long as affordable options are out there, why should we be concerned if there are also expensive choices? Nobody thinks that cars are unaffordable because Mercedes has a model that costs $100,000. College is not unaffordable because Harvard, Stanford, and other top schools are expensive. Students have plenty of other college options. Just as not everybody can buy a Mercedes, students should choose a college that they both love and can afford.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Dorfman, the difference is that owning a Mercedes simply gives you bragging rights in the office parking lot. It does not, as college does, dictate the job, the level of income and the opportunities you will have later in life. It’s certainly true that there are affordable options out there, ones that won’t leave students reeling from debt for years to come. But why, then, do we as students feel so much pressure to bypass these more affordable options and apply to the most expensive and prestigious universities in the country?
There’s no doubt that universities like Harvard, Stanford and our own Boston College provide a comprehensive and excellent education, one that consistently produces students who are able to be successful professionally. But is $60,000 a year for four years a reasonable price to ask, especially for something essential for success? The money that we pay includes the price of the name of the school and the prestige it carries. Colleges know that the demand for their product is growing day by day as the college education becomes more and more necessary for success, and as demand goes up, the suppliers increase the price. But we apply anyway, placing our self-worth in the name of our school and believing that the opportunities we will have later justify the price.
What about financial aid? Financial aid allows people of lower income brackets to afford the superior education that is priced outside their capacity. Unfortunately, financial aid doesn’t cover even close to everyone who needs some. In order to qualify, the parents of the students must have an income falling below a certain cutoff point, and the process often involves filling out long and tedious forms and getting very little to nothing back. Upper-middle class families fall through the cracks because they have an apparent income that falls outside the limit, but that same income will take a serious hit after paying $60,000 for four years.
The real cost of these absurd tuition price tags isn’t even the physical money; it’s the effect on the student and the family who are forced to pay. Often financial aid forms don’t show the backstory of a family, and there can be more factors at work than their income suggests. Uncertainty for the future plays a huge part in people’s decisions at the present, and parents can find themselves in situations where they seem financially capable on paper, but when they look comprehensively at finances, the future is not promising. College is an investment, but, in this economy, the returns aren’t covering the money poured into that higher-level education. In addition, most families these days aren’t sending only one kid to school, they’re sending two, three or even more. How do you balance multiple overlapping tuitions, and how do you keep yourself from putting pressure on each child to choose a school that’s cheaper rather than the school they love?
The stresses don’t stop at the parental level. Kids are a lot smarter than they seem, and even if parents are trying to shelter them from financial stresses, they will figure it out eventually. And then comes the guilt. No student should EVER feel guilty about his or her college education. We go to college to learn more, to work harder, to have experiences and to mature. None of those are activities that should inspire guilt. The other side of the coin is resentment. For kids whose parents pressured them to choose a cheaper school or made them graduate early to lower the cost, it’s hard for them not to resent their situation, to pity themselves for not having the same opportunities as their peers, and to hate the people who can afford it. These worries will only build as time goes on, perhaps ruining relationships between kids and parents or between husbands and wives.
I am not arguing that there should be no tuition difference between schools. Like Mr. Dorfman said, there are cars and then there are Mercedes. All colleges are not created equal and neither are all students. But the determining factor between who receives a Harvard education and who does not should not be their parent’s paycheck. If you can get into a highly selective institution based on merit, you deserve to be there. Tuition should never be a deterrent. Merit grants could help lower tuitions for gifted students and inspire others to work harder. Education is, in my opinion, the most important tool a person has to change this world, and if something as trivial as money is stopping the education of our future generations, this world’s prospects scare me.