It’s All About Education: The High Cost of Higher Education

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


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In a nation where we increasingly believe that further education after high school is necessary for success, the cost of that education is becoming increasingly unaffordable. CNN aired a documentary last month called Ivory Tower about the astronomical costs of college and the crushing student debt shouldered by many of our young people. According to a recent report published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2008, state spending on higher education has dropped an average of 23% while tuition at public colleges and universities has increased by an average of 28%.

The average cost of a four-year public degree with room and board is $67,156; private colleges and universities can cost that much each year. The number of students borrowing federal student loans to finance their education increased 69% over the past ten years, with the average student borrowing $29,400; and 71% of all students graduating from four-year colleges take out loans. As a result, our young college graduates end up paying approximately $277/month towards their educational debt for ten years. 

The rising costs of college are leading many to question its value. According to a recent Pew study, 75% of all Americans believe that college has become too expensive for most people. In addition, students who take out loans say that their debt has an influence on their choice of career and makes it difficult for them to pay bills or buy a home. At the same time, 86% of college graduates still believe that college was a good investment for them. So what can be done to help make that college education a reality for all of our children, regardless of their socioeconomic background? 

The Promise Network

One proposed solution to this problem is the Promise Network, which “seeks to address and expand access to and success in higher education through deepening the college-going culture in its K-12 schools.” There are currently 54 communities in 28 states that have developed Promise Programs, many of whom are offering place-based scholarships to help make higher education a viable option for their youth. 

New Haven Promise, for example, was launched in 2010 to provide eligible students up to $10,000 per year towards tuition at a Connecticut public college or university or up to $2,500 per year towards tuition at a Connecticut private nonprofit college or university. The Kalamazoo Promise program has been in place for eight years and over 2,500 students have taken advantage of the program, which provides each Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS) graduate with the opportunity to attend post-secondary education with an up to 100% scholarship (depending on how many years the students has attended KPS).

Funded by local donors, the program has had positive effects beyond increased college attendance: greater city pride, fewer families moving out of the city, and higher motivation among students. Since the Promise program’s inception, the city’s population has stabilized and suburban flight has stopped; in fact, the student population has grown. Over 90% of Kalamazoo’s graduates now attend college. In 2012, the New York Times Magazine profiled the Kalamazoo Promise program as a model for other cities. 

Providence Public Schools

A businessman in Rhode Island wants to start a similar program for Providence Public School students. Richard Lappin, co-owner of Regency Plaza, LLC and president of LISCO Development, believes that this program, called A Door to the Future, has the potential to entice families to move to and remain in the Providence schools; to strengthen our city economically by attracting businesses who want a qualified, educated workforce; and to improve our schools by helping to motivate students who may currently believe that post-secondary education is financially out of their reach.

The program requires a minimal long-term investment on the part of the parents (2% of their income for 20 years; upon enrollment in a post-secondary program, students themselves agree to pay .85% of their income, per year of education, for 15 years after graduation). This model will permit the program to become self-sustaining within 19 years, while still guaranteeing Providence students a college education with considerably less debt. 

A Door to the Future

The tuition benefit from A Door to the Future can be applied to any eligible college or technical school within the United States, allowing students to pursue their dreams regardless of whether their career goals require a four-year degree or a certification program. A Door to the Future has already conducted focus groups, met with community leaders, and built a viable financial model. The organization is now in the process of securing initial funding, with the hope of enrolling the first students in the program in the fall of 2015.

The population of Providence continues to decline (the city lost 1.1% of its population from 2004 – 2013); in four Providence high schools, 50% or more of the student body was chronically absent last year; and there is a concerted effort to attract businesses to Rhode Island. Looking at the results of various Promise programs around the country, it seems likely that A Door to the Future will help in all of these areas. Let’s not let this opportunity to strengthen our community slip away. 

Lauri Lee is an independent consultant with over twenty years of experience in both public and private education, with learners from infants through adults. With experience in marketing, communications, social media, development, admissions, and technology, she is able to synthesize many of the issues facing our educational system today. She lives in Providence with her family, a big dog, and a small cat. She encourages you to connect with her on Twitter @fridovichlee or to contact her directly at [email protected]


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