If you or your children have recently attended university in the US, you know the staggering cost that comes with it. In some cases, the amount you have to pay for an undergraduate degree is a 6-digit number, which is beyond ridiculous.

The US has the most expensive tuition rates for private higher education institutions, and it’s among the countries with expensive public colleges as well. This, however, didn’t use to be the case. In fact, the rising cost of education can be tracked down to a few government policies.

Today’s article will explore the roots of this deeply troubling trend, which sadly leaves many college-helpful kids with little to no options.

Price Comparison

To the younger people reading this article, you’ve probably encountered comments on the Internet made by older generations telling you that you are able to pay your own tuition if you work, but you’re simply lazy. These comments, while condescending, were true for the time that the commenters were in college.

One could easily work a part-time job and support themselves while studying, while the loans were much more bearable and realistic back then.

To put this in numbers, the average salary in 1970 was around $9,870, while private universities charged around $3,000 to $4,000 per year. Thus, yearly tuition was between a third or a half of the average income in the country. Now, the US average salary is around $53,000, and tuition, in a private institution, is about the same amount, sometimes even higher (e.g., USC charges $63,500).

The tuition fees in public universities have also gone through the roof. For comparison, UCLA, a public university, used to be free for California residents. They imposed a $150 educational fee in 1970, which was still a reasonable amount. Nowadays though, California residents pay $37,448 per year, while out-of-state students – $68,474.

Even “cheaper” public institutions such as Arizona State University charge their resident students over $10,000. No matter where you choose to study, you’d have to pay a 5-digit sum every year. Note that this doesn’t include room and board, which can cost an additional $10,000 to up to $30,000 per year.

What Happened

Many like to blame greedy banks for the size of their student loans, but as crazy as it might sound, the federal government is almost solely to blame.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 created federal scholarships and low-interest student loans; another law in 1976, made borrowers of federal student loans unable to declare bankruptcy on them, and lastly, a 1978 act made all undergraduates eligible for student loans.

All of these policies were likely well-meaning as they sought to make universities more accessible, but they had the opposite effect. While students were and still are able to go to the university of their dream due to these policies, they amass sizable debts, and so does the government. As of today, millions of Americans owe the government more than $1 trillion in student debt.

Public and private institutions are also to blame for the price increase though. Their rates have grown and continue to grow in an unhealthy manner, and they know it. However, why would they care when they know that no matter how much they charge, the federal government “has their back” and will pay their ridiculous fees?

What to Do Now

It’s easy to point the finger at legislators in the 1960’s and 1970’s who created these policies, but it is up to contemporary legislators to change them and they only seem to make matters worse.

Over the years, the amount you can take from the federal government for tuition has only increased, and now it’s the Department of Education, rather than banks, that is the prime lender of student loans, further worsening the problem. Universities have taken note and increased their rates as a result.

So, what should happen now? One radical solution is to overturn all these policies we mentioned, but this is not a very popular view, because it sounds cold-hearted and the general populace will likely protest.

A common view young Americans hold is cancelling student debt and making college “free”. First of all, taxpayer-funded education is not free. Second of all, universities are unlikely to drop their tuition fees overnight, so the federal government would have to foot the bill and go trillions in deficit (as if one trillion in debt wasn’t bad enough).

Such a decision would also further devalue college degrees and we would see universities expanding their student bodies, which again would lead to a higher bill that taxpayers would be made to pay. College degrees are already devalued, and research has shown that recent graduates spend years working a job below their academic qualification with only 27% graduates working in their actual field.

No matter how you look at the issue, all possible solutions to the crisis revolve around a limited role of the federal government in higher education, which translates to lower subsidies and looser regulations for new competitors on the market.

By James