An old friend of mine asked me the other day, “What portion of the accumulated student debt was for educational endeavors?” He worked on a campus for a long time, not as a faculty or administrator but as a public safety officer: A cop. He watched the ebb and flow of students over a generation and had some concerns. Concerns about costs are not limited to families and students, administrators protecting their backs, finance officers balancing the books, admissions offices explaining away the ever-increasing cost and what it added to the benefits of a college education, or politicians running for cover. Remember, he was a cop asking a good question. The answer may raise the hair on the back of your neck.
Nationally, the 2013 graduates of universities carried an average of almost $30,000 in debt. Graduates from the top 10 debt-generating institutions leave with over $40,000 in debt. None are the familiar private elites. The “Ivies” average a comparatively low $25,000 in debt. On a state-by-state basis the top 10 states averages over $29,000 in debt.
With budget cuts to higher education looming, and real family income growth gasping, the percentage of family income dedicated to paying for college is mushrooming. Arizona and Louisiana are two notably challenged states with appropriations decreases near 50%. Only two jurisdictions, Alaska and North Dakota, register increased spending per student during the period of FY08 through FY14.
I am optimistic by nature but current circumstances strain my buoyancy. Meeting the educational aspirations of students at reasonable costs is vital for economic growth. The endlessly escalating cost of college is borne not by the states, or the federal government, but by students and families with after tax income. Frequently debt is incurred by students unprepared for study, and unable to complete a degree, undermining the value of higher education for all.
It’s an embarrassment that is turning into a crime.
Here is the answer to the question. The costs for a mid-sized research university in Illinois are used because they are typical, and differ only slightly from similar institutions, of which there are over a hundred nationally. This is not a criticism of this university. In fact, this institution has relatively low debt loads for graduates, and Illinois, the college’s home, ranks 15th nationally in average debt, with 70% of the graduates carrying an average of $28,543 in debt. No institution in Illinois is on the “high debt” list. For a high tax, high cost of living state, this is worth noting. However, these facts command no complacency: And ignorance, real or feigned, provides no relief.
Broad brush strokes are used paint this picture. I urge caution in taking too much from this breakdown. All of the costs associated with this analysis are based on a 15 student credit-hour course load per semester. This assumes the student is full-time. It is also based on the assumption that the student is in-state and paying current rates of tuition and fees.
The tuition is $4,200 per semester. It is safe to assume 100% of that goes to academic costs — teaching and related educational support.
However, fees fuel the cop’s concern.
A student would pay $140 for the student center, $45 for student activity fees, $134 for the Student Recreation Center, $306 for the athletic fund, $9 for campus recreation, $620 for medical benefits, (It seems this should be obviated by the Affordable Care Act.), $60 for bond retirement, $50 in mass transit assessments, $80 to support information technology, $80 for a new student services building, $250 directed to facilities maintenance, $10 green fee, and $3 for student grants. Additionally, each student is assessed $6 to fund a student attorney. All totaled, about $1,800 per semester.
The total tuition and fees, in round numbers, is $6,000 per semester.
Residence halls and all-you-can eat dorm food add an additional $5,000 each semester, totaling roughly $11,000 per semester or $22,000 per year. A grand total of $88,000 for four years, not including other “supporting nuances” like Kewpie dolls, snacks, nights out, and oh, books — print or “e.” Differences are matters of degree, not game changers.
Don’t trust me. Check your local State U. Costs are relatively consistent across similar institutions. So, the average graduating student currently has about $30,000 in debt. Most graduates cannot even tell you how much they have borrowed. And, troublingly, this does not include the nearly half who don’t graduate, are unaccounted for by transfer, part-time attendance, or disappear in a fogging morass of data.
Any way you cut it, borrowed resources pay for well less than half the educational costs. The balance is Life Style Support. And, for transparency, the trends in Illinois are like 48 of 50 states in the nation: Costs have increased while state appropriations have decreased.
The answer to the question, “What portion of the accumulated student debt was for educational endeavors?”
Much less than one-half while the student/family borne cost to maintain the status quo increases and perceived value falls.
What do you think is the answer to the question, “What’s it cost?”