Higher education, but at what cost?

In many places outside of the United States, higher education is not as unattainable or complicated as it is here. In other parts of the world, college is regarded as a right given to every citizen, while here it is often thought to be a privilege that is allotted to some, but not all. General education in itself is a right to all from any background and nationality, but this view is not always universally shared.

To be clear, my intention here is not to degrade the government subsidized educational programs that we have in place across the U.S., but rather question why this process has become so extensive in the first place.

Throughout the past several decades, the U.S. has implemented countless federal and state policies surrounding higher education. These policies are often instituted to make pursuing a college education easier, but they somehow complicate the process further for prospective students. The FAFSA, for instance, is a government-established program that is intended to help students receive the appropriate amount of financial aid for their education. But the process itself can be expensive and create major obstacles for all students, especially those declared as independent or totally new to college.

In several parts of Europe, university costs roughly €200 – €400 per year for each student that enrolls. That fee is often only required as compensation for processing a student’s application to the university. Essentially, the majority of students who pursue higher education in Europe are expected to secure their own off-campus housing for the year and bring school materials. Textbooks are often provided to students each year. This is a huge change from the way we approach college and finances here in the U.S. There appears to be a major discrepancy between our educational standards and processes and those of other developed nations.

Over time, our universities have become more about the money rather than the education. Instead of providing students with cost-effective ways to ensure the continuation of their education, many students are turned away because of the sticker price.

Of course, that’s not to say that many U.S. universities do not offer scholarships and various aid packages to students, but the overall tuition fee is often a major impact in college decisions for prospective students. In that way, many students have chosen paths that don’t include traditional higher education. We are beginning to see more students fresh out of high school who choose to attend community colleges, engage in online courses or take a year off to save money for university. This is becoming the new standard of higher education here in the U.S.

Even so, students who come from impoverished backgrounds don’t always have the resources to attend college at all. In this way, we enable a national mentality that suggests that higher education is a privilege guaranteed only for those who can afford it.

It’s not that the U.S. wants students to opt-out of a college education due to increasing tuition prices, but our government definitely does not make pursuing higher education an easy task, especially in comparison to other nations around the world. Maybe it’s time we learn something from our European counterparts and reevaluate the way we approach the topic of affordable, higher education.

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