How the Meaning of Tuition is Changing

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What exactly is the meaning of tuition? And what does it mean for our future?

Sure, we all use the word “tuition” when we talk about paying for university. But do we really know what it means? We’re going to take you through a little history of tuition and how it started, as well as what the state is now. Changes are happening, however. So you’re going to learn about the meaning of tuition and what the future holds for all of us.



What is the Meaning of Tuition?

It wouldn’t hurt to start with a simple definition. What is tuition exactly?


Well, here are a few:


According to American/British MacMillion Dictionary, tuition means “money that you pay to take lessons, especially at a college, university, or private school.”


The English Oxford Dictionary defines tuition as “A sum of money charged for teaching by a college or university.”


Then there’s the American Merriam-Webster Dictionary with the definition: “The price of or payment for instruction.”


Pretty vague, right? We know roughly what tuition means, but what is it all about? Let’s go through some main issues about the cost of education.



How Tuition Started

A little history of how tuition started could give you an idea of how it came about and where it’s going. It all started when the first universities were established.

  • In the period between 1100 and 1200, the first real universities were established in Medieval Europe. They were supported by the church or the government.
  • In 1796, Thomas Jefferson proposed supporting the education system through taxes. He believed that people needed to be educated. In 1818, the government began subsidizing elementary schools.



Source: Unsplash


  • In the early 1800s, many universities were not charging tuition or the rates were relatively low, however only wealthy families could afford the expenses that came with attending university, such as living expenses, books and clothing.
  • After WWII, the change in tuition began. Many countries in North America, the UK, and Japan started to charge high fees for tuition. Yet European countries in Scandinavia and central Europe stayed tuition-free.
  • During the 1970s, tution fees were rising quickly and government funding was decreasing steadily while interest rates were getting higher. The result was students were beginning to really struggle with debt.
  • As of the 2017/2018 school year, the average tuition for a private non-profit university was $34,740. Student debt is the highest it’s ever been at a collective $1.4 trillion in the United States.



What Does Tuition Cover?

Tuition is only part of the cost of earning a college degree. While tuition is generally the largest portion of the cost, there are other fees such as living costs, books, etc.


When it comes to tuition fees, what you’re paying is meant to cover all the things that your university should reasonably provide because they are supposed to enable you to complete your degree.



Here is what your university should be providing once you pay tuition:



Lectures, Seminars, and Tutorials


As no surprise, lectures are part of your tuition. But so are the seminars and tutorial sessions that involve smaller groups with more discussions. Depending on your major, you may also have lab courses or be in other environments that relate to what you’re studying. Many times, tutors can be assigned at no extra cost. Remember, you’re already paying for tuition, so it’s wise to make use of all the features.



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Contact Hours


Every student is entitled to the contact hours of the lecturers and teacher assistants. The hours will depend on your field of study.





Make use of the facilities that are accessible to you as a paying student:



1. University Library

The library can really come in handy. You might be able to find all of, or at least half of, your required readings. See our article on how to get free college books — the library is a major option.

2. Computer Access

Not everyone has a personal laptop or computer to do all their work on. If you don’t, you’re entitled to use the school’s computers as well as their internet.

3. Student Support Services

Remember, part of tuition is getting the help and support that you deserve. They can help you with career guidance, tutoring, finances, and more. The bottom line: just ask.

4. Students’ Union

Student unions aren’t only about telling you where the student bars are and telling you to join their clubs, they’re also there to hear your voices and make them heard. They care about what you have to say, so it’s worth speaking up!

5. Administration

Part of paying tuition is getting all the administrative paperwork done, which the university is responsible for. All the behind-the-scenes stuff like registration, exams, and courses are all done by university admin.



Why Do We Have Tuition?

Aside from the features that tuition provides, as we just mentioned above, there are arguments as to why students should pay for tuition. Remember that these are arguments that are one side of the story. Basically, many people believe that if students didn’t have to pay for tuition, some problems would arise, such as:



Longer waiting lists


If students didn’t have to pay for college, there would be a lot more students enrolling and that could mean much longer waiting lists. There would simply not be enough room to accommodate everyone.



Reduction in quality


If government funding spreads thin, then the quality of the colleges will suffer as a result.



Students will take it for granted


The worry is that if students don’t have to pay, then they won’t take their education as seriously and would drop out or not give their all. Again, these are speculations and debates, not based on fact.



Tuition Fees Around the World

Tuition fees vary substantially around the world. The U.S., Canada, South Africa, and the UK, for example, have what are called “up front” tuition policies in which a large sum of money is calculated per year to cover tuition costs. But then in France, tuition is capped based on the level of education. It costs, on average, 183 euros per year for undergraduate degrees and can reach 388 for doctorates.



Source: Unsplash



In Greece, for instance, bachelor-level higher education and master-level post-graduate education is tuition-free and provided to all Greek citizens as a benefit of citizenship paid by taxes. Australia has a different way of calculating tuition. Tuition fees at Australian universities are generally calculated per unit, not per year.


Investopedia did an investigation and found that there are six European countries in which tuition is virtually free. Included are: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Germany, Slovenia, and France. Outside of Europe, countries like Brazil and Mexico offer tuition-free higher education.



Tuition is Rising

Whether we like or not, inflation occurs, and with that prices rise. Tuition fees are no exception. According to CNBC, students at public four-year institutions used to pay an average of $3,190 for tuition in the 1987-1988 school year (with prices adjusted to reflect 2017 dollars). Fast forward 30 years, and that average has risen to $9,970 for the 2017-2018 school year. That’s a whopping 213% increase!


Private schools face major tuition increases as well. In 1988, the average tuition cost for a private nonprofit four-year institution was $15,160. But today, it’s risen by 129%, with the 2017-2018 school year costing $34,740.


If you’re wondering why tuition is increasing so much, the simple answer is inflation. But it’s a little more complicated than that. There is also the issue of supply and demand. Basically, the demand outweighs the supply. The market is changing and college is now seen as accessible to any student, not to mention a major requirement for the majority of professions. Thus, colleges and universities are able to charge whatever they want to the masses of eagerly-waiting students.


Tuition prices are also increasing due to the sheer number of students looking to earn a college degree. As the number of students rises, so does the cost. According to Business Insider, with higher enrollment comes a need for more financial-aid programs, a need to increase budgets for faculty pay, and a decline in financial support from the state governments. Richard Vedder, an author and professor of economics at Ohio University, explained how knowing that students will get financial aid, universities raise fees and take advantage to capture that themselves.



Alternatives and Solutions

With tuition costs rising for the majority of universities, it can be pretty scary. But don’t fret! There are lots of alternatives and solutions for students to earn valuable degrees at a much lower cost.



Tuition-Free Universities


That’s right, tuition-free. It’s not too good to be true — it exists! We offer tuition-free education here at University of the People. You pay for exam fees, but tuition itself is at no cost. See our program options here. And by the way, if you want to know a bit about the history of tuition-free education, see our article for an idea of how free tuition came about.





Loans are readily available but should be taken with caution. Considering the huge rise in student loan debt, it’s best to seek an advisor to see what options are best for you. See our piece on how to avoid student loan debt. There are steps to take before you start studying, during, and even after.





There is also the option of getting sponsored for your education. There are many companies that sponsor students, such as banks, medical companies, food and beverage companies and others. There are also government-funded grants and scholarships available to both local and international students. That’s why it’s important to always check with the school to see what is available.



Where is the future going?

We have seen how prices are rising, especially in the US. But the issue of tuition is changing all over the world.


Take the UK, for example. The English Prime Minister, Theresa May, wants to reevaluate the cost of tuition. She is planning to review a system that “leaves the poorest students in England with the highest debt.” May announced that she intends to freeze tuition fees at the current level, instead of letting them increase with inflation. What the does the future for England’s education system hold? Well, it means that tuition fees could be linked to the usefulness of the degree, rather than a blanket fee for all.






There’s a real problem with the rising costs of tuition, and it has to do with diversity. University World News put it simply: when the university tuition fees go up, diversity goes down. It would be a shame to decrease diversity in universities because part of a rich and well-rounded education is learning from people from different cultures with diverse worldviews.


Many European countries, like Germany, Denmark, and Finland, are continuing with their free tuition. With the cost of an American education rising so quickly, it could mean that more and more students will be looking to gain an education in Europe and other countries with lower costs. In addition, tuition-free online universities will likely become more accessible with the growing demand. At least with institutions like UoPeople, tuition will never have to be something to worry about. With tuition-free degrees, our philosophy is that every human has the right to an education and it should be attainable for all, no matter how much money you have in the bank.