Skyrocketing tuition rates, not inadequate student aid, is the problem

With Gov. Pat Quinn’s recent college trek across Illinois to share his proposal of a $50 million increase to the Monetary Aid Program (MAP) grant, the somewhat impossible task of financing college tuition seemed to be present on everyone’s minds.

For those unfamiliar with the MAP grant, it helps disadvantaged students pay for their higher education; however, it continuously fails to match inflated tuition rates on top of the challenge of an altogether decrease in program funding. Quinn’s bold proposal may succeed in mobilizing young voters to support his re-election efforts in the 2014 Illinois gubernatorial race this November, but comes short of any real solution to the problem of the rising costs of higher education.

This is not to say that his MAP grant efforts are pointless – despite questions surrounding the origins of the $50 million – but to suggest that more needs to be done than just the Band-Aid solution known as the MAP grant. Placing the MAP grant at the heart of the solution to the issue of growing tuition rates ignores the root cause of the problem.

Currently we are finding ways to obtain more money to offset the costs of higher education; however, it seems more efficient and productive to find ways to lower the cost of higher education in the first place. In order to find these methods, it is first necessary to examine the law of supply and demand to determine why the cost of attending universities is so high and, more importantly, how these universities get away with it.

Most are probably familiar with the basic economic laws of supply and demand: As demand increases and supply remains unchanged, a shortage occurs. This shortage translates to a higher equilibrium price. When reviewed in light of colleges, we can assume that as demand for higher education increases and the amount of universities remains unchanged, somewhat of a shortage may occur.

In turn, this shortage means that universities may charge higher rates since university enrollments are coveted amongst potential students. This also suggests that the higher the quality of a university is – which for some amounts to higher rankings on lists such as Forbes or U.S. News – the higher the amount of tuition that university can charge.

While the higher education situation cannot exactly be classified as a shortage of universities, the demand of obtaining a degree from an accredited university is very high. In the emergence of a globalized world, it’s important to be competitive in the workforce.

Currently, it is very challenging to obtain a job without a degree; the job market is flooded with potential workers searching for employment opportunities that are in line with their obtained degree, leaving little room for those without degrees or impressive resumes.

The supply of Ivy League schools and other prestigious universities are very limited, meaning that colleges that fall under the first tier must compete with one another to catch the applicants who were rejected or declined to apply due to their notoriously low acceptance rates. These universities compete with each other through luxurious gyms, resort- like dormitories, modern classrooms, extensive libraries, spirited sports programs and other expanded resources.

All of the above attract potential students, or in the eyes of the universities, potential customers. These competitive factors increase the price of tuition to a great degree. The higher education system has gotten out of hand when it comes to the cost of earning a college degree, and there is little that individuals can do to stop this, except to make calls for governmental action regarding funding for higher education.

WGEM states that Gov. Quinn’s proposed budget increase will help an estimated 21,000 more students attend college. Is this a positive action towards helping disadvantaged students attend school? Yes. A monumental change in our system of higher education? No.

The truth is that student debt is more than just an inconvenience; it has the potential to limit our generation in tremendous ways.

According to U.S. News, “The number of borrowers who defaulted on their student loans two and three years after entering repayment has continued to increase in the last several years.”

An exact solution to the institutional problems of higher education is hard to pinpoint, but increasing MAP grant funds isn’t it. Despite lessening the financial burden in many students’ lives, the fight to increase governmental educational funding is an endless carousal of messy budget plans and interest group politics. For now, I propose the strengthening of community colleges.

With their comparably lower cost of tuition and lack of over-the-top luxuries, community colleges should be considered as more than just a fallback plan. Strengthening these institutions academically could open many new practical doors for those who are not privileged enough to have the ability to attend an accredited four-year university.

For the most part, a degree is a degree, whether it costs $50,000 a year or $3,000 a year. The choice is yours.