As the 2016 Presidential election cycle has entered full swing, it is apparent that income inequality will be a major talking points for candidates from both sides of the ring. However, when the causes are discussed of income inequality are discussed, often forgotten is the large income disparity between college and high school graduates. Income gaps between college graduates and high school graduates have reached a 50 year high, according to researchers from the Pew Research Center. In 2013, recent college graduates made, on average, over 17,000$ more per year than those with only a high school diploma – more than double the gap in 1965 (inflation adjusted). In fact, the average salary of high-school graduates has actually decreased by over 3,000$ since 1965, again, after inflation adjustments. The solution here seems simple, to help fix the income gap we need to get more of America’s youth into college. Sounds easy right? Not so fast. In addition to the rising importance of college degrees, they are rising even faster in cost.
It’s no secret that four-year college tuition rates have skyrocketed over the past few decades, almost tripling since 1980. In the last six years alone tuition at public universities has risen over 21%, and there is no end in sight. Climbing tuition rates are a huge problem and limit social mobility, thereby maintaining our socio-economic imbalance – but at least people know about it, they are trying to do something about it. It’s one thing to face an uphill battle combating costs that are alive and well in the public conscious, what about the one that aren’t?
Remember that 6 year, 21% increase in college tuition? What if I told you prices for room and board have risen the same amount, in the same period? According to College Board the cost of room and board at public universities has risen about 20% since 2009. And private universities are almost as bad, having increased their room and board prices by about 17% of the same time – and many private institutions require their students to live on campus.
According to Richard Vetter, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, “This is the untold story… we focus on tuition, but we need to look at other costs too.”
As combating the rising costs of four-year universities continues to gain steam, avoiding the wrath of the media, politicians, parents, and students has become a priority for many universities – but not at the cost of minimizing the costs of attending school. In order to alleviate societal pressures universities have turned to alternative methods of increasing their profits. “One way to make tuition prices go up more slowly is to make room and board go up more rapidly,” says George Washington education professor Sandy Baum.
Vetter takes a dim outlook on this practice, “I hate to use ‘ripping students off.’ But they’re using their monopoly position to disguise the true cost of the price of college.”
Fostering a system that allows for the students from lower income families to attend college, and graduate without mountains of debt, needs to be a priority for increasing social mobility and shrinking our unprecedented wealth gap. But just as fighting tuition increases has gained a following, the need to shift focus and incorporate the total cost of college becomes apparent. It is not enough slow tuition increases if the overall price of obtaining a degree continues to increase.