Why Does College Cost So Much?

Broc Sleek

In College Planning & Financial AidBroc Sleek

Whether you’re just about to start college or you’re several years beyond graduation, you have probably heard stories about what it used to be like to pay for college. Many people have heard their parents talk about paying for college with income from a summer job or working just a few hours a week here and there to keep up with tuition bills.

In 1987, tuition for the average public four-year college was $3,190. By 2017 that number had more than tripled, up to $9,970, and that does not include room and board, books and other expenses. Yet, according to the New York Times, college tuition has increased side-by-side with public investment in the nation’s schools. With college tuition higher than ever, students are struggling to pay for college. Let’s take a look at why college is so expensive and what today’s student can do to reduce the cost of college.

Why Is College Tuition So Expensive?

Financial Aid, Grants, and Loan Subsidies Enable Colleges

In short, college tuition is so high because it can be. As that New York Times article above notes, public spending on education has increased alongside college tuition. As government programs pour more and more money into colleges, the nation’s schools have responded in kind, drastically boosting the number of administrative staff on today’s college campuses and handing out incredible salaries for high-ranking administrators.

In fact, some of the highest paid university presidents from public colleges were given seven-figure salaries in 2013. These kinds of paychecks would not have been possible back when a summer job could have covered the cost of tuition, but they are now.

Competition for Students

Increased spending from universities isn’t the only reason why college tuition is on the rise. Today’s colleges are competing on a global scale for the best students. High salaries are an incentive to lure the best professors. Additional perks like a good health insurance plan, new buildings on campus, and high-tech tools ensure that the best students will follow. However, building a better college isn’t cheap, so tuition must rise as well.

What You Can Do About Expensive Tuition

College tuition is more expensive than ever, but that doesn’t mean that today’s students are out of luck. Here are some things that can help you bring the cost of your college education down:

  • Refinance your student loans after graduation. Once you start paying back your student loans, you will also be responsible for interest that has accumulated on them. A high-interest rate means that you’re responsible for a higher balance. Refinancing can help you land better interest rates and save money on your student loans.
  • Take time to prepare. Many high school students will leap straight into college, but this isn’t always the best move from a financial standpoint. Taking some time off allows you to assess your priorities and build up a financial foundation to help you pay for college. This is also a great time to work on your credit score, which can help you get a better deal on private student loans.
  • Apply for scholarships. Scholarships are essentially free money that you can use to pay for college. Search for scholarships through your university’s financial aid office and keep your academics up in order to be the best candidate.

Why Are College Textbooks So Expensive?

Unfortunately, tuition isn’t the only reason why it’s hard to pay for college these days. As any student can tell you, textbooks alone can be incredibly expensive. According to CNBC, the average student in 2013 spent about $1,200 each year on textbooks and supplies alone. Here’s why textbooks are so expensive:

Textbook Publishers

In the current state of the market, there are just five companies that publish textbooks. When a few large companies control a market like this, they are able to flex their economic might and dictate prices as they see fit, rather than responding to market demands for lower costs.

College Professors

Unfortunately, college professors share some of the blame for high textbook prices. Professors will often receive review copies of textbooks for free, so they will assign a textbook without ever thinking about how much it costs. In addition, new editions for popular textbooks become available every few years or so. Professors will assign the new edition because it’s more convenient, but new editions rarely carry groundbreaking changes and older editions can be found at much cheaper prices.

What You Can Do About Expensive Textbooks

Textbooks are expensive, but they don’t have to take such a large chunk out of your financial aid. Here are some things that you can do to pay less for your textbooks:

  • Rent your textbooks. Textbook rental is becoming a popular option for students who want to pay less. By renting, you can save money and easily discard the book after the semester is over.
  • Buy used textbooks. One of the biggest mistakes that freshman make is buying new textbooks. Used textbooks are drastically cheaper than their new counterparts and, depending on the habits of their previous owners, they can still be in mint condition when you get them.
  • Ask your professor about older editions. Oftentimes newer editions will just contain a few paragraphs or added material here and there, or even just some fixed typos compared to previous editions. Before the semester begins, talk to your professor to find out if an older edition is compatible with the coursework. If it is, you can save a lot of money by going back to that edition.

College is more expensive than ever. Today’s students have to use every tool available in order to reduce the cost of college in the long run.

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