Inquirer Editorial: College tuition is too high

Penn State is financed mostly by tuition, taxpayers, and donors. Above, a student walking on the campus in State College.
Penn State is financed mostly by tuition, taxpayers, and donors. Above, a student walking on the campus in State College. (GENE J. PUSKAR / Associated Press)
Posted: January 14, 2013

It took the recession to do it, but it looks like America's colleges and universities are finally coming to their senses when it comes to the ever-increasing tuitions they have been charging students.

A study by Moody's Investor Service says the demand for four-year college degrees is softening. Stagnant family incomes and poor job prospects in this economy are leading more young people to choose community college, if they choose college at all.

Universities are responding to fewer student applications by freezing or reducing tuition and offering more scholarships. But that is affecting their bottom lines. Moody's said a third of the 292 schools it surveyed expect inflation to exceed their net revenue.

You can't blame young people for questioning whether a college education is worth the debt. A recently concluded series by Inquirer writer Al Lubrano detailed the trouble the so-called millennial generation of adults ages 18 to 34 has had trying to find jobs, even with college degrees.

"I was the first in my family to go to college, and it made me feel invincible," said an unemployed 31-year-old woman with a Temple University psychology degree. "Now, I'm going for jobs like snack-bar attendant and not getting them. Seriously. I get a little scared."

As frightening as the situation is for out-of-work college graduates, it is worse for those with only a high school diploma. Only 27 percent of recent high school graduates not enrolled in college have full-time jobs, while another third of that group is unemployed. Those working full-time average only $9.25 an hour.

There is no disputing a college education has great value. A college graduate will earn about a million dollars more during his lifetime than someone who only went to high school. But the rise in college costs has exceeded the rate of inflation for years - 498 percent to 115 percent since 1986. Now, students and parents are saying they've had enough.

Overall student debt exceeds $1 trillion, which is more than all the credit-card debt Americans owe. The average debt owed per person is $25,000 - the highest level of student debt in the nation's history. Of course, students who went on to earn graduate and professional degrees often owe tens of thousands more.

Some of the largest debts are owed by students in this region because the schools are more expensive. The $14,416 in tuition that Pennsylvania State University charged in 2010 was the highest of any public university in the country. Rowan University, at $19,344, was the third highest.

Nearly half of the schools surveyed by Moody's reported enrollment declines this fall. That should be all the impetus they need to make college more affordable.

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