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Students in the U.S. grapple with high tuition and debt

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(CNN Money) While students in the United States are aided by scholarships, grants and recent tax breaks, many American families still struggle to meet the high costs of college tuition and associated fees. This past year, tuition at the average public university went up by 8.3 per cent to US$8,244, according to the College Board. Meanwhile the price of studying and living on campus rose 5.4 per cent, bringing costs up to US$21,447 for in-state students at public universities. On the bright side, federal surveys showed that more than 52 per cent of students at such universities received some sort of financial aid, namely scholarships and grants. But to offset that statistic is the fact that despite these aids, three consecutive years of falling average family incomes mean that education costs are still accounting for a large chunk of many family's budgets.

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A view of the trends in college pricing

College Board
The College Board is a nonprofit membership organization based in the United States that connects students with college opportunities, including financial support and scholarships. They also conduct research in the education community, such as their annual reports, which examine the costs associated with higher education. The 2011 report provides the basis of the above article's findings--that tuition and other fees have skyrocketed from past years. The College Board's ‘Trends in College Pricing 2011' report includes tables and figures outlining nearly everything related to university costs and how they've changed over time, as well as highlights of the reports findings. Among them was the fact that "tuition and fees for in-state students at public four-year colleges and universities increased at an average rate of 5.6 per cent per year." This compared to a rate of 4.5 per cent and 3.2 per cent per year in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

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Comparing tuition prices across the United States

U.S. Department of Education
The U.S. Department of Education released an online interactive tool this past June, which was created to ease the cost-assessment process for prospective students. It does so by allowing them to compare school costs and to hold institutions accountable for rising tuition fees. The College Affordability and Transparency Center allows students to search the most and least expensive universities, both public and private. It also differentiates between a university's published sticker prices, and their average costs after financial aid and scholarships are accounted for. The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 required that the Affordability and Transparency Center be enforced as of July 2011, as an effort to better educate families on each college's tuition and costs and to express at what rate those costs are increasing or decreasing. It also requires those colleges with the most rapidly rising tuitions to submit reports to the government, regarding the reasons for prices dramatically increasing and how they plan to address the increase.

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Before committing to a student loan

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators
With the cost of education increasing, students are no doubt going to continue to rely on financial aid, mainly student loans, to help them pay for their schooling. The College Board report notes: "In 2011-12, full-time undergraduates receive an estimated average of about $5,750 in grant aid from all sources and federal tax benefits at public four-year institutions, $15,530 at private nonprofit four-year institutions, and $3,770 at public two-year colleges." The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators is involved in public discussion regarding student financial aid issues and advocates increasing student access to universities. They offer some general advice to prospective students and it is: be careful. Before rushing into a student loan there are a number of factors to consider, such as whether a loan is a realistic and absolutely necessary option in the first place. NASFAA's website also includes general information on student loans and relevant media coverage.

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What you need to know about student loans

Project on Student Debt
The Project on Student Debt is a nonprofit research and policy organization that aims to better the public's understanding of the implications of student loans on a familial, social and economic level, as loans have become so common among American students. The Project has a number of initiatives, past and present, that have worked towards easing the burden of student loans and reducing student debt. The website provides independent publications, as well as news releases and media coverage on the issue of student financial aid. Similar to the NASFAA website, the Project outlines advice for students before accepting aid, in addition to recent data and research, and links to other websites with information on student loans.

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Students: 'Know Before You Owe'

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
On Oct. 26, President Obama introduced the ‘Know Before You Owe' campaign for student debt, an effort to--similar to the Affordability and Transparency Center--allow students and their families to educate themselves on the expenses of the college experience. The campaign, which falls under the umbrella of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, maintains that students should be aware of the costs, risks and benefits of a loan before they sign off and head to school. Colleges are a main source of financial aid information and each has their own way of informing students of financial aid programs. However, the government found through student and college counselor input that universities were not communicating their programs to students effectively. They are now working with the Department of Education to improve the public's knowledge of financial aid, and to improve financial aid offers themselves. This website outlines those efforts.

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