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How Tuition Increases Affect College Students

by Van Thompson, studioD

The cost of a college degree has risen steadily over the past three decades, with Bloomberg News reporting a 1,200-percent increase since 1978 -- outpacing the rate of inflation. CNN reports that as of 2012, the average private school tuition is about $25,000, while the average public school tuition is just under $6,000. State budget cuts have mandated faster tuition increases over the past several years, and these tuition hikes can have unintended -- and occasionally disastrous -- consequences for college students.

Decreased Enrollment

Although college enrollment has increased significantly over the past 30 years, tuition hikes can decrease the number of students who choose to enroll. The New York Times reported in 2013 that many colleges are projecting lower enrollment rates for the coming years, and Time reported in 2012 that college enrollment has slipped slightly over the past few years. A 2011 study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis predicted a 0.25-percent decline in college enrollment for every $100 added to tuition. In a world where a college degree is increasingly necessary, higher tuition rates can limit people's access to good jobs.

Slower Graduation Times

Many colleges charge students per course hour they take. When students can't afford the cost of a full course load, they may choose to take fewer classes, which can have a snowball effect. For example, a student who doesn't take a required prerequisite for other classes could see her graduation date pushed back significantly.

Academic Effects

Students who choose to stay in school may have to work longer hours at more demanding jobs to cover their expenses. This can interfere with academic performance. A 2002 study by the State Public Interest Research Group's Higher Education Project found that working full-time can harm grades. Forty-two percent of survey respondents reported that working hurt their academic progress, and 53 percent reported that work limited the classes they could take.

Dropping Out

If students can't make enough money to cover the cost of tuition hikes and can't get more money in loans or scholarships, they may have no choice but to drop out. The Los Angeles Times reports that tuition hikes can contribute to increased dropout rates. A student whose graduation date has been delayed by rate increases or who is having academic trouble due to working full-time might be particularly likely to decide to give up on college.

About the Author

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.

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