"But knowledge to their eyes her ample page, Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’er unroll.”
(Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard)
Knowledge, it is a pursuit that fills the annals of history. It has been passed from generation to generation, and each age has seen new discoveries added to "her ample page." The pursuit and conveyance of knowledge continues to the modern day most often through the educational system. The final tier of this system is college. For many the goal of college looms ahead, bringing a unique mixture of both excitement and anxiety. Excitement swells in anticipation of the lessons history has to teach, but also anxiety because though the storehouse of learning has grown, the price paid for that learning has exponentially grown. What are the effects of modern college expenses on students, and what can the government do to help ease the burden placed upon them and their families?
The increase in college tuition has been dramatic. "Tuition and fees at public and private U.S. colleges and universities rose by more than double the rate of inflation this year, according to statistics compiled by the nonprofit College Board." (Reuters, December 2007) This unrestrained escalation of educational costs necessarily has a direct affect on students. An increase in tuition means a decrease in availability to many hardworking students who simply cannot afford the astronomical price placed upon their hope of progress. These exorbitant fees come at a time when "Experts insist Americans need more education to compete internationally." (Reuters, December 2007) These rates also create the problematic necessity of student loans. For anyone who desires to attend college, loans have become commonplace. Most colleges compute student loans into their financial aid packages. These loans, however, are anything but financial "aid." Yes, they may enable a student to attend college, but the burden of debt they produce is carried into the next stage of life. What a student will pay in interest far exceeds the original price of a college education. Thus the system that is meant to give people the knowledge and freedom to pursue their goals remains either out of reach financially or leaves graduates with a burdensome debt load.
The unchecked increase of tuition is an obvious problem that needs to be addressed. What can the government do to remedy this problem? Recently there has been a "wave of new financial aid packages announced by top-tier colleges." (The Boston Globe, February 28, 2008) Some of these, such as Harvard’s package, remove student loans and replace them with grants. These reforms are a reaction to proposals in Congress where "the pattern of deep-pocketed universities regularly raising tuition while amassing fast growing fortunes" (The Boston Globe, February 28, 2008) has come under scrutiny. One of these proposals would require private colleges to spend five percent of their endowments (which are tax deductible because of their non-profit status) to financially help students. Another reform would set up a "watch list" of colleges that have high tuition increases. These proposals have put pressure on colleges, many of whom have millions to billions of dollars in endowments, and this pressure has produced results.
Though these are steps in the right direction, there is much more to be done. These financial revisions by colleges are helpful, but without accountability there are no guarantees how long they will last or how much tuition fees will rise. The government must require colleges to answer for their non-profit status and the overabundance of their endowments. Also, monitoring universities that spike the price of tuition and enforcing penalties would keep rates under control.
In the end, the financial obstacles faced by students are real and loom large. If current practices remain unchanged the situation will continue to worsen. With no check to keep back the escalation of rising costs, the America of tomorrow will be robbed of those who would carry on the work of today. Will an education be within reach of the next generation, or will “knowledge to their eyes her ample page, rich with the spoils of time…ne’er" be unrolled?
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