The Future of Higher Education

While the economy recovers and college tuition prices shoot upward, the pockets of college students and their families continue to empty. Last year, the average debt of college graduates across the country totaled $35,200. Compared to the debt of college graduates two decades ago, this is a 200 percent increase. This rapid growth is especially daunting considering the fact that during this period, the median income of graduates remained flat. Therefore, college students and their families are putting more and more money into a college education, but not seeing a greater return on their investment. As reported by “The Huffington Post” this past July, two-thirds of recent college graduates have student debt that equal 60 percent of their annual incomes. Even more unsettling is the projection that within a decade this debt will actually be equal to a graduate’s annual income. Few people will disagree that America has a student debt problem, but finding a solution to this problem is far more complicated.

For the current academic year, the cost for a student to attend Colgate is $57,890, not including personal expenses such as a laptop and textbooks. This ranks Colgate among the most expensive schools in the entire nation-and tuition isn’t going to get any cheaper, with an anticipated three percent increase over the next several years. To the University’s credit, it has a positive reputation for its financial aid packages, with nearly 42 percent of the Class of 2017 receiving financial aid this year. For families who cannot afford to spend nearly $230,000 on a four-year liberal arts education, this financial aid is vital. Many students, myself included, wouldn’t be able to attend Colgate if it weren’t for this aid. But still, the annual yearly family contribution for those receiving financial aid is $17,475. For a middle-class family in the present economy, this adds up to a significant amount of money over four years.

Although I do not deny the relevance or value of a private liberal arts education, I doubt that families are going to be willing to spend a small fortune and accrue a large amount of debt if tuition prices continue to soar upward. Going to a State University of New York system school (SUNY) costs about one-third the price of Colgate. Furthermore, technological advancements have opened the gates to a number of higher education opportunities that are both cheaper and more accessible. So how do expensive institutions such as Colgate compete?

As society continues to evolve in the 21st century, the field of education has to evolve as well. Colgate has made slow and meager progress in this regard. For starters, the University does not offer any sort of online courses, and, possibly worse, refuses to transfer online credit from other institutions. Although the merit of online courses can be debated, the future of education cannot. It is only a matter of time before an online education becomes mainstream. While the costs of both attending and running a private university continue to increase, this is one of the most logical solutions to creating a more affordable education. All SUNY schools offer online courses and the majority of schools comparable to Colgate are beginning to offer a number of online courses as well, or at least accept online credit from other institutions. There are a number of other possibilities that the University could explore, but this seems to be the most fundamental.

The longer that it takes Colgate to modernize its educational offerings, the less relevant a Colgate education will become. When a student has the choice to either spend a fortune and accumulate unfathomable debt or go to a cheaper college, take some online classes and have a modest amount of debt, the decision becomes clear. I fear that if this happens, then the private liberal arts education is going to find itself in a tailspin towards its own demise.