Why College Is So Expensive In America


College in America: it’s four years
of all nighters, keg stands, ethnically diverse welcome brochures, Pinterest
perfect dorm rooms and crushing student debt. I have $69,812, $47,000,
$90,000, $35,000, $350,000, $60,000 worth of student loans. My
minimum student loan payment is $1,000 a month. It should take me about 10 years to
pay that back, I will be roughly 36, 45-years-old, I don’t know how old I’ll
be when I pay that off. I was actually on campus at Penn State and I
saw that I had so much to pay and it just was overwhelming. I didn’t know how
to do it, I never saw a number that big. I just went to school for
a few months found out that it was not what I wanted at all, and now
I have this forty thousand extra dollars that I have to pay and nothing really
to show for it. If I wasn’t paying this student debt, oh my God, I would
just invest all of my money. It feels like I will have a roommate for the
rest of my life because my debt is so much. You can’t point at someone
and say, this person made your student debt load so much more, it’s the
whole system. So why is college so expensive, and is it worth it? Higher
education today is made up of three main sectors. They all bring in money
from tuition but where they get the rest of their revenue varies. Public schools are your state schools
like SUNY or Iowa state. They get money from the government. Private
for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix or Capella University
get money from shareholders. And private non-profits are those like Yale an
American University, they get a lot of their money from donors. More on
that later. But choosing a college hasn’t always been so complicated. In
1636, America’s first college was founded. You might have heard
of it before, Harvard University For hundreds of years college in America
was a pretty exclusive club to get into. But we’ve come a long
way from Harvard’s first graduating class of just nine men in 1642. In
2018 more than three million Americans were expected to receive a college degree. The demographics of American
higher education have been utterly transformed. In 1944 the G.I. bill was signed
into law giving veterans money to attend school. The G.I. Bill of Rights looks
after the money end too. That’s right. Tuition is taken care of. Funds
are provided for laboratory fees, books, supplies and equipment are included. Just a few years later, nearly
half of Americans enrolled in college were veterans. You cannot underestimate the G.I.
Bill. This educated an entire generation of men and some women too. And
it opened the doors people who hadn’t even thought that they might go to
college. The G.I. Bill changed what American families could aspire to. But not everyone was able to take
full advantage of the bill’s benefits. It was significantly harder for women and
people of color to get the tuition money and enroll in college
because of the widespread discrimination by both schools and banks. Dateline Russia 1957. In a moment the story. In the
50s a little beach ball sized satellite launched into space by the Soviet Union
had a big impact on the American education system. The first Sputnik. People were worried
about this clash between the Soviet Union and the United States. And
suddenly it was popular to study science and math. It was patriotic. In the 60s the civil rights movement
helped push the doors open even wider to give women and people of
color access to higher education. In those years students at University of
California schools paid less than a thousand dollars in registration fees. No
tuition if you were a resident. But with the 70s
came the taxpayer revolt. If you want something you pay for it.
Don’t expect me to pay for it. It’s your problem not mine. And so
what happened was the student loan process exploded. And then came the
U.S. News and World Report. It was one of the luckiest
or most ingenious publishing decisions ever. In 1983 U.S. News and World
Report published a list of America’s Best Colleges. It became a highly data
driven ranking. Every one of the criteria that U.S. News used
depended on name recognition, traditional quality, prestige and most of all
wealth. Rankings played a big thing for me. I was an athlete and
so I was pretty competitive. There have been a ton of new lists
since the 1983 ranking but the U.S. News and World Report still reigns king.
And colleges keep a pretty close eye on it. If you ask them they will say they
pay no attention to it. But within the conference rooms of the admissions
office and provost offices across the land, I can assure you they
pay very close attention to it. One thing they’re paying attention to
are their test score averages. By the 90s, colleges started boosting base tuition
and using the extra money to give merit based scholarships to kids
who tested well. The chief data strategist at U.S. News and World
Report downplayed test scores as a major factor in their ranking, saying it’s
less than eight percent of the methodology today. And that “We’ve
seen schools perform best in the rankings if they emphasize and
perform strongly in student outcome areas like graduation and retention rates.
He also said they further decrease the weight of SAT and ACT scores.
Tuition costs at both public and private colleges have doubled since the late
80s, even when you account for inflation. Even so, more Americans
are getting college degrees. But state funding for public universities has taken
a hit. States spent less on higher education in 2017 than they
did in 2008 before the recession. And that means students are spending more.
The tuition they’re paying is a big moneymaker for colleges. 2017 was the
first year ever that most state schools got more money from tuition
than they did from government funding. If you’re sitting in the state
legislature and you’re looking for money, the university system is one of
your biggest costs. So when you realize well we cut them 2 percent last
year, they didn’t go out of business. Let’s cut them another 2 percent. What
happens is you pass the buck. It goes from the
taxpayer to the student. The average student graduates with
about $37,000 in student debt altogether. The U.S. has
$1.5 trillion dollars of it. I had this mindset that I was gonna
go to college undergrad and then I was gonna go to grad school and get my
PhD. I thought that I would get through it and then come out on the other side
with a job and then be able to pay it off. But that did
not go according to plan. Rachel Brandt got her undergraduate degrees
in math and economics from Iowa State. Then she moved to New
York to pursue her master’s in economics. She left grad school after her
first semester to better cope with mental health issues she was going through. I thought that I would just withdraw
and be fine. But then a couple of weeks after I withdrew, I got an
email from the school saying that I owed them $6,000 right away. And that was
rough. So I didn’t know how I was going to pay that.
And that was very stressful. Three, four, five, six, seven different student loans that all
have to be paid with different interest rates. The number just keeps going up. I
will be paying $867 in rent a month and that’s about how much I’m going to
have to be paying in loans. I look at my bank account every
day and it’s very scary. Rachel is far from the only one
not to finish a degree she started. Only about 57 percent of undergrads complete
their degree within six years. One option students turn to for a
more flexible and at times more affordable path to a degree are for-profit
colleges like University of Phoenix or DeVry University. The industry has been
in flux, but today a little more than 900,000 students attend for-profit colleges
in the U.S., many of whom use federal loans to
help cover the cost. I feel like I want to do
something practical that would that would clearly lead to a specific job. The Art
Institute of New York City was suggested to me. Now, I really regret that it
was because it turned out to be a terrible financial experience. Despite for-profits being just a small
fraction of all colleges in the U.S., for-profit students default on their
student debt at a much higher rate. Chyna is a first generation college
student from New York who studied web design and interactive media at the Art
Institute of New York City when it was run as a for-profit. I withdrew from the school, that
was something could have entirely taught myself using tutorials. For-profit schools date all the way
back to colonial times. Not everyone could attend institutions like Harvard,
so entrepreneurs saw a business opportunity and began teaching reading, writing
and trade skills *** for a fee. Benjamin Franklin was a big
fan of for-profit schools and the practical skills they offered. In
1994, University of Phoenix’s parent company Apollo Education Group went public
and laid the groundwork for the for-profit education
corporations of today. But this big business approach
to education hasn’t come without controversy. With so much money on the line many
turn to the schools that show the best numbers, the best chances at a new
job when you graduate. But can you believe what some of those
for profit colleges tell you? When I went there for the so-called
tour it was it was basically a sales pitch. That should have been a red flag but
it wasn’t because I was 18, not having parents who completed college, you
know, being a first generation student it’s like I
didn’t have the discernment to just leave those kind of
schools alone. The Art Institute did not respond to a request for comment.
However the director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom defended
the for-profit system, saying non-profits make a lot of money too.
They just distribute it differently. He said traditional colleges often use it
to “make the lives of people working in them more comfortable.”
He also said everyone in higher education is almost certainly seeking
profit and there is little evidence that people in for profit schools
are less focused on students best interest. Since Chyna left, the Art
Institute of New York City along with 43 other Art
Institute campuses shut down. There are a number of
lawsuits against various campuses. However Chyna’s not able to qualify for loan
forgiveness because she left the college just before the cutoff date. And she
feels trapped. Since she hasn’t paid off her student loans in full, she’s not
able to get her transcript, which she needs that to apply to state schools.
So for now she’s enrolled in another for-profit school in the hopes of using
the degree to apply to a master’s program at a state school. I feel like all these for-profit
schools they prey on people who are already who come from low
income backgrounds. Enter the non-profits. Amari Lilton is from St. Louis but
went to undergrad at a private college in Chicago. Now she works at an
advertising agency in New York City and is paying off her more
than $40,000 in student debt. You want to have the college
dream without the student debt, because you’re just coming into something and you
feel like I’m gonna have all this independence I’ll be able to pick
my own classes I’ll have this freedom I’ve never had before. So you want
to go to the coolest place you can. Every college wants to be the best.
They want to compete with the next college. They want to attract the
top students. That means they have to have the best facilities they
have to build new buildings. And remember tuition discounting? While
the sticker price of non-profit colleges are rising, so is the tuition
discount rate. The price you see on a college website is higher than
what many students end up actually paying. You would think that most of
the money is going to the cost of running the school, but nearly
half of undergrad tuition at non-profits goes to help other people pay
for their schooling. Amari didn’t pay the full price of tuition at her
private college but she’s still facing more debt than she was expecting. I just cried. Yeah I just cried because I
had no clue how I was going to do it. I dream about it. It’s always on my mind. If I’m like
going out to lunch and I’ll just say, oh my God I hope this goes through
because I know they just took my money out. I just hope, I hope. I want
to double my payments by the end of this year so $2,000 a month. My goal is to
not go into my 30s with debt. If I go to Wells Fargo and say like
I want a portfolio with all my best investments help me out, they won’t
take me seriously because I have $250 in the bank. So where do we go from here? I’ve
been studying this for a long time and advocating for reform and this is
the hardest type of problem to fix because it’s structural. It’s all of
us. It’s the whole market. Jarrett Freeman ran for New York State
Senate in 2016 when he was just 26 years old. I declare my candidacy for
New York State Senate. And a big part of his platform
was education and student debt. I was actually on campus and I saw that
I had so much to pay and it just was overwhelming. I didn’t
know how to do it. I never saw a number that big.
Americans are becoming less convinced that a college degree is worth it. In 2013,
53 percent of people thought a four year degree was worth it. In 2017
only 49 percent of people thought so. I think that it’s so ingrained in your
head that you have to go to college, that college is the next step after
graduation. I think in hindsight I see that college is not for everyone. Overall I feel a little jaded about
college being worth it for everyone, or at least for students
directly out of high school. Knowing what I know now, I would have
even taken a few years off before I went to college. There is this
idea that 18-year-olds are supposed to know what they want in life. And now
that I’m turning 25 tomorrow, I still don’t know exactly what’s going on. That mindset could be a problem
for the future job market. It’s expected that by 2020, 65 percent of jobs
in the U.S. will require people to have some college education to even be considered.
So there are a lot of jobs that require you to spend some money
on school before they’ll pay you to work. In many cases that
sum is a lot of money. Student debt is a national crisis.
Unfortunately we don’t have bills on the floor that are
actually addressing that. The reality is there probably isn’t
just one solution that’s going to solve everything. It will take a
lot of different approaches, and different approaches are being tested across
America. One of the proposed solutions is an income share agreement.
Essentially, instead of taking out loans, students could agree to repay an
investor a percentage of their income for a set amount of years after
they graduate. The idea has support from politicians on both sides of the
aisle and some schools are starting to test it out. In New York
City, Governor Cuomo implemented a program that gives middle-class residents free tuition
at select state schools. And some billionaires like Bill Gates are
giving their own money to try and fix the system. And of course
there’s the idea to offer free college. I do not agree with free college.
I think that when you give someone something for free they do not realize
the value of it, and that’s just my opinion, and I think that there
should be some cost associated with it. Free college is a great idea. I
am fully supportive of free college. The catch is: who’s going
to pay the bill? In other countries taxpayers foot most
of the bill. So instead of paying student loans later in life, you’re
paying higher taxes. Roughly two dozen countries across the world provide free
or almost free college to its citizens. The solution probably won’t be that
simple in the U.S. But with student debt rising and the need for
a college degree becoming more and more important, the future of American
education depends on figuring this out.

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