College has never been more expensive to attend. Now you can check if your degree is worth the cost.
As the number of students enrolling in college has increased, college costs have climbed as well. Between 2000 and 2011, the average cost of attending a private, not-for-profit, four year degree granting program increased over 37%, including tuition, room and board.
Higher education productivity, as measured by academic degrees granted by American colleges and universities, is declining. Since the early 1990s, real expenditures on higher education have grown by more than 25 percent, now amounting to 2.9 percent of US gross domestic product (GDP)—greater than the percentage of GDP spent on higher education in almost any of the other developed countries. But while the proportion of high-school graduates going on to college has risen dramatically, the percentage of entering college students finishing a bachelor’s degree has at best increased only slightly or, at worst, has declined.
A growing number of liberal-arts colleges are supplementing their traditional glossy brochures touting ivy-covered libraries and great-books seminars with more pecuniary pitches: Buy seven semesters, get one free. Apply today, get $2,500 cash back. Free classes after four years.
The schools are adjusting their marketing to attract students at a time when families are struggling to foot the bill for college—and increasingly concerned about the potential payoff. Some of the most aggressive offers come from the most financially vulnerable schools: midtier, private institutions that are heavily dependent on tuition and sit in regions with shrinking pools of college-bound high-school seniors.
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The pressure on liberal-arts schools is coming from several directions. Nationwide, the number of graduating high-school seniors this year is expected to decline to 3.32 million from a projected all-time high of 3.41 million during the 2010-11 school year, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. And fewer college-bound seniors are choosing private four-year schools: Between 2006 and 2011, the percentage of students at those schools dropped to 20% from 22%, according to the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.
For students headed to college, tuition is a bigger issue than ever. The average cost of public and private schools jumped 92% between 2001 and 2011, compared with a 27% rise in the consumer-price index. Last year the average amount that students at public colleges paid in tuition, after state and institutional grants and scholarships, climbed 8.3%, the biggest jump on record, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
Taking out student loans is a very bad idea for students and for their parents
There are record numbers of student borrowers in financial distress, according to federal data. But millions of parents who have taken out loans to pay for their children’s college education make up a less visible generation in debt. For the most part, these parents did well enough through midlife to take on sizable loans, but some have since fallen on tough times because of the recession, health problems, job loss or lives that took a sudden hard turn.
And unlike the angry students who have recently taken to the streets to protest their indebtedness, most of these parents are too ashamed to draw attention to themselves.