The pressure to attend college is at an all-time high, as is the cost to attend. A March 2017 report released by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) states that most low- to middle-income students cannot afford more than 5% of the 2,000 colleges IHEP studied. Given the rising costs of tuition, the American Dream of achieving a college degree is becoming more of a pipe dream than a reality for the underprivileged masses.

So, what exactly is driving up the cost of tuition higher than the rate of inflation, and what can be done to remedy this issue? Read on to find out.


The Impact of Inflation

Inflation is one of the biggest culprits behind the rising cost of college tuition. Every year, the rate of college tuition rises about 2-4% (at an estimated minimum) above the rate of inflation. Since colleges are in competition with each other to be the best, they heavily rely on tuition dollars (in addition to donations) to be constantly adding onto and improving infrastructure.


Of course, when average inflation increases (as it did between 2016 and early 2017), the purchasing power of the dollar becomes weaker. Those on the lower end of the financial spectrum encounter more difficulty affording things like college tuition, which continuously hovers above the inflation rate. Therefore, an increase in the inflation rate can be detrimental to those trying to afford already-unaffordable college costs.


Increased Demand Equals Increased Price

This is another one of the fundamentals of capitalist economics. When there is an increased demand for a good or service, the supplier of that good or service can set their price. Since so many students are wanting to enroll in college programs, colleges can set higher prices.


As previously stated, the intention behind this is predominantly based on competition. Every college wants to be the most attractive and prestigious. This drives up enrollment, which drives up the need for more infrastructure, which requires more money. Instead of relocating funds or lowering costs, college administrators choose to increase tuition costs to support their infrastructure initiatives, provide the most high-tech features, pay the best educators and administrators, supporting their athletics, and create scholarship opportunities.


Scholarship Distribution

Finally, we come to the issue of scholarship distribution. Essentially, the students who don’t receive scholarships end up inadvertently funding their peers who receive institutional scholarships. Of course, with tuition becoming more unaffordable, the competition between students for scholarships intensifies the issue.


What Could (and Should) Be Done?

Higher education took an especially hard hit with the 2008-2009 financial recession. The recession caused public funding for higher ed to decrease by a whopping 14.6%. Colleges have been trying to rebuild ever since, but the struggle is still very much a reality. Public, state-run institutions continue to see a rise in real net average tuition.


A few things can be done to try to remedy this issue without creating more debt. (In fact, the current student loan debt total in the US is an astounding $1.44 trillion!) While the idea of free college tuition for all students is a nice idea on the surface, somebody will have to shoulder the cost.


A tax-deductible college tuition system could potentially help make costs more affordable for students. Some costs can be tax-deductible (such as textbooks and computers that are paid for out-of-pocket). However, college tuition and additional costs are not fully tax-deductible. Implementing a fully tax-deductible tuition could benefit both institutions (as more students will be likely to enroll) and students.


Additionally, many students take out loans and don’t graduate and are more liable to default on loan repayments than their peers who graduate. Establishing a greater emphasis on educational outcomes won’t automatically drive down the cost of tuition, but some completion funds might benefit underserved populations who otherwise wouldn’t be incentivized to enroll and complete their undergraduate degrees.


Finally, more free programs such as Course Hero are being developed to alleviate the financial burdens students take on for tutoring and other resources. Technology is one of our best assets when it comes to alleviating minor financial burdens that add up over the course of one’s education. Having more of these resources available benefits everyone.



A college degree is now a huge component of the “American Dream.” Those who hold degrees are more likely to have successful careers in their fields, but this success comes at a staggering price. Steps need to be taken at both institutional and government levels to make college more affordable and accessible to those with the desire to attend.

Brock Calderon is recent college graduate with a BA in communications and a minor in English. He is fresh in his writing career and apart from writing he enjoys eating at a new restaurant weekly and exercising to burn off all those excess calories from all those restaurants. If he isn’t writing, eating, or exercising he’s probably watching the most recent episode of whatever show is most popular at the time. Originally from Sacramento California, Brock now resides in Culver City.


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Affording the American Dream: Measuring College (Un)affordability