Skip to content

Here’s Why College Is So Expensive: The Answer Is Obvious


Both college tuition fees and student loan debt have reached sky-high numbers — leaving us all with the perplexing question: Why is college so expensive? The answer is a lot more obvious than you think, and is caused by a few simple reasons.

Here’s everything you need to know about the hefty cost of higher education, how we reached this point, and what can be done about it. We all deserve an equal opportunity to obtain a degree!

Why Is College So Much More Expensive Than It’s Ever Been?

Both college tuition and student loan debt are now higher than they’ve ever been. In the past 10 years, from 2008 to 2018, tuition fees have increased by a shocking 36%. And while inflation of course still exists, in the same time period, the median income increased by a mere 2.1%. So why is college so expensive?

This can be explained for a variety of reasons — including a significant increase in demand, with many more people wanting to attend college. And with such a competitive market, some colleges raise their prices to create a false perception of quality.

Other factors include an increase in financial aid, a lack of funding from the state, increased student services, and last but not least, an increased need for faculty, as well as the need to pay them higher salaries. The hefty cost of college today has made obtaining a degree far less beneficial than it once was a decade ago.

What Do College Tuition Fees Look Like Compared To Two Decades Ago?

College tuition fees today look nothing like they once did. Here’s what the situation has become in 2020.

College Tuition Has More Than Doubled Since The 1980s

Students of today’s generation are facing financial struggles that were completely foreign to past generations. On top of the already difficult student loan debt challenges, students of today also have to deal with the increased costs of housing. To even just have the initial down payment for a home is a major struggle for many millennials after all of their hefty costs of studying.

Figures have found that since the 1980s, the cost of an undergraduate degree has increased by a shocking 213% at public schools, and 129% at private schools. As many of you are already aware, education does not always just end here.

A female college student holding a coffee and some textbooks
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Where Did This Crisis Originate?

Past generations were able to pay for college themselves with the hard-earned money they made working over summers. Those that came from more well-off families were able to help their children pay for their education. But in the past few decades, public funding was severely cut, forcing colleges to raise their fees, and in turn, leaving millennials with no choice but to take out hefty loans. The rest is history.

What Are The Average Costs Of College?

Anyone preparing to attend college may be seriously shocked to find out about how much a degree really costs, even before all of the additional costs such as living, housing, and textbooks.

1. Average Tuition Fees

The average cost of college tuition (just tuition) was close to $7,000 per semester in 2017. After everything, the average cost per semester was calculated to be more than $25,000, which is clearly a sky-high number that a typical student cannot afford. Take note that these numbers are only per semester, meaning that the average cost per year is $50,000. And that’s just the average — not the most expensive college!

2. Average Student Loan Fees

According to Business Insider, the average student debt is $29,800. These numbers are not what they spent, but what students still owe once they’ve completed their degrees.

3. The Most Expensive College

The most expensive college in the US is reported to be Columbia University, costing slightly over $61,000 for the 2019-20 school year. The fact that it’s located in New York City surely doesn’t make the cost of living affordable either, and it’s only one of many academic institutions with astronomically high fees.

Why Is College So Expensive? Everyone Wants To Go To College!

The demand for college has increased significantly in the past few decades, and as demand raises, so too will the prices. It’s a never-ending cycle of supply and demand.

The Department of Education reported that US colleges saw more than 5 million more students in 2017 than in 2000. What this proves is that despite the hefty costs of college, its benefits still seem to outweigh the cost. Nonetheless, a degree today is still worth less than it once was due to the increased cost.

What Are Some Theories On Why College Is So Expensive?

1. Financial Aid

Why is college so expensive? Well, while still debated, some theories have suggested that increases in tuition fees are caused by financial aid. The fact that there are more students who are borrowing money has caused governments to respond accordingly, which is something that universities started to take advantage of, knowing that the means are available.

2. Public Funding Can’t Keep Up

Another theory suggests that college tuition fees have been pushed up because state funding simply can’t keep up with all the students that have been enrolling. In turn, they have to cut down on their support for higher education, which leaves colleges with no choice but to replace that lost revenue with increases in tuition fees, paid by the students themselves.

3. The Salaries Of Professors

Since it now costs more to get an education, it also now costs more to pay people to provide students with that education. In order to offer higher education, highly educated people are required, and expect to be paid more.

4. Student Social Support Is Expanding

Much of a school’s budget is now being allocated to offering more student services such as healthcare and counseling. While these services are very beneficial for students’ well-being and academic success, they are also one of the factors that have caused tuition fees to soar.

A girl supporting her friend who has just graduated from college
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

Is The Hefty Cost Of College Worth The Investment?

Although highly ironic, the more we take part and accept these increased college tuitions, we also contribute to making our degree less beneficial.

In fact, figures have actually found that in most majors, 6% of college graduates are unemployed.

So if you’re asking yourself how worthwhile it is to invest in a college degree — that’s something that’s up to you to decide!

How Can You Pay For College?

It can be seriously overwhelming to think about paying for college with such astronomical fees. Thankfully, there are a wide variety of payment options that can help you achieve that degree.

The first step in getting help to pay for college is completing a FAFSA, which will determine if you are eligible for government aid, such as student loans or pell grants. It’s also important to explore all of your scholarship options and are offered generally based on financial need or on academic merit.

While planning how you will pay for college, it’s crucial that you start to budget your expenses, even with the additional help of financial assistance and scholarships. Get a better picture of how much your college experience will cost you, and you can start even before you enroll to save wherever possible — such as by eating out less or cutting down on memberships that you haven’t been using.

Always be sure to do your research about all your options and find which universities are affordable for you.

What Are Some Ways To Pay Less For College?

While college inevitably comes with a high price, there are still some ways to pay less for college, such as applying for financial aid, taking advanced placement courses, using dual enrollment courses, testing out of college classes, taking advantage of education expense tax deductions, and strategically applying to colleges such as in-state public colleges.

Online colleges are also a great way to pay less for college, as they tend to be much cheaper, and some are even tuition-free such as University of the People.

What Does The Future Of Tuition Fees Hold?

Unfortunately, if things continue to grow at the same rate, college tuition rates of today will actually seem like a bargain compared to what might become. Tuition fees are increasing faster than inflation and even public, in-state schools have been increasing their fees.

What You Can Do About It

So what can we do to prevent these increases? Online courses are a great place to start and are just as effective as traditional college. Online learning not only reduces real estate fees, but is also more productive. Schools can also aim to bring costs more in line with revenue, making fees more realistic so that students don’t leave in severe debt.

There is also a new concept known as the two-step college option, in which students start off their higher education at a more affordable college for two years, and then transfer to a four-year program to finish their bachelor’s degree.

Why Online College Is More Affordable

While it may feel like obtaining a degree is a hopeless dream only available for those with the means, the introduction of online college has provided more equal opportunities to receive higher education.

And although online college does tend to be cheaper, it surely doesn’t mean that the quality of education is any less. The costs are simply able to be reduced by studying online since there is no physical campus that needs to be funded, as well as other factors such as a dining hall and other costly facilities.

Online college is an effective way to manage to both study and work part time at the same time, avoiding student debt from building up. Saving on the commute to school also is a major time and money saver.

On top of all of these benefits, overall, online college is far more affordable than traditional institutions. Here at University of the People, we offer degrees that are completely tuition-free — creating an ideal option for students who want to graduate without putting a financial strain on themselves.

So why is college so expensive? Because we’re not looking towards other options.