Blog / Student Debt

The Lasting Impacts of Overpriced Education

May 4, 2021

By Zoe Barley 

40 years ago, my dad had to drop out of college because his family ran out of money to pay for it. Both of his parents worked hard to try to get their children through college. Unfortunately, as a first generation college student, my dad did not have the financial expertise or support to understand the complex process of aid and loans. This, combined with the incredibly high costs of a college education, prevented him from graduating. The impacts this has had on his life are immense. Time and time again he has had to go above and beyond to prove that he is qualified for a job. His resume has everything a potential employer could want outside of those two little letters: B.A. For as long as I can remember, he has told me to do everything I can to get a college degree and avoid the consequences he had to face.

Like many others, my dad was laid off from his job at the beginning of the pandemic. Despite applying to dozens of positions over the last year, he is rarely invited for an interview. Many positions will not even accept an application without a Bachelor’s degree, and though he has 20 years of industry experience, he has yet to find a new job, even after a year-long dedicated, continual search.

My dad’s experience is a clear omen for why affordable college and financial education is so desperately needed. The average cost of tuition, room and board at a 4-year institution in 1977 was $2,577. Accounting for inflation, that would be about $11,264 today. By contrast, the average cost of tuition, room and board in 2021 is $24,690. The real cost of college has more than doubled in the 44 years since my dad had to drop out, but the systems to help students have not improved. I fear how many students are currently experiencing the same financial hardships my dad dealt with over 50 years ago and how the impact of an unfinished college degree will affect the rest of their lives. Strong financial education standards could play a role in mitigating this crisis as well. If students were taught what it really means to sign onto a college loan, how to fill out the FAFSA and how to apply for other forms of financial aid and scholarships, many more students like my dad would be able to obtain degrees.

These hardships affect students of color at a disproportionately high rate. The myth of the American dream is truly unachievable without an upheaval of our education systems. Our state and federal governments’ divestment from funding higher education is only getting worse, and students today are trying to find ways to foot tuition bills that are staggering in comparison to those our parents’ generation faced. The world is a different place than it was in 1977 and it’s time our public policies reflected that.There is a clear policy-based solution to ensure everyone has the opportunity to seek a college degree if they want one and no reason not to take it. Increasing state and federal investment in higher education, forgiving student loan debt and providing students with a stronger financial education in high school will prevent future generations of students from fighting the same battle my dad has been for the past 50 years.