Friday, March 07, 2014

The High Cost of Education

As an undergraduate, I chose to study in Florida at a public college because it was affordable, Bright Futures provided me with merit-based scholarship money, and because of the high quality of the educational institution. However, when I filled out my Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), I did not understand why the government cared about my parent’s financial situation to determine my financial aid. As an adult of 18, in the eyes of the state I was functionally independent. And yet, any educational aid provided to me was directly related to my parent’s wealth, not mine (because, of course, I had none). But why was this the case, especially since if I took out loans, I would ultimately bear the financial responsibility for having to pay them back? Why should I be denied financial aid because of the financial situation of my parents? These questions bothered me at the time—and had an impact on where I chose to study—but I hadn’t thought about these questions until I heard about the Duke University freshman who is paying for her education by performing in adult films. I was floored by the revelation, but even more so because of the rationale behind why this young woman had decided to do porn to pay for school.

According to the freshman, "I couldn't afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt..." The primary reason this young woman decided to do porn was because of the financial burden of school. Leaving aside the question of whether or not doing porn as a career choice is good or not, the real question that stood out to me was: Why is the cost of education so high that this young woman feels that doing porn to pay for school is her only option?

In my mind, this is the case for three primary reasons: 1) the high cost of tuition; 2) financial aid being tied to measures of familial wealth; and 3) the need for young people to get a higher education to get decent-paying jobs.

From Duke University's perspective, the $60,000/year price tag is actually a discount since they claim to be spending $90,000/year per student. But how can any University expect a student to be able to pay $60,000 a year just for tuition? Unless you are part of the 1%, you'll be priced out of this education. UF, in comparison, is a  relative bargain since in-state tuition is $6,630/year. But if you add up all of the additional expenses one accrues during a year, an average undergraduate at UF will still spend $20,000/year on their education, which is still a significant financial burden for most. For this young woman at Duke, paying tuition and living expenses meant that doing porn was her only option.

The second issue here is that a student's financial need is determined by parental wealth. This makes no logical sense. Although our parents have supported us for the first eighteen-year of our life, once we're adults, we shoulder the responsibilities of life, financial and otherwise. It makes little sense that our parents' wealth—which we may or may not have access to—determines the financial aid we get. This young woman's family had financial problems and so she had to bear the brunt of the cost of a Duke University education. But why did she have to potentially pay more based on her parents' financial situation? This should not occur and is a boondoggle that hurts all students everywhere in this country.

Finally the need for a college degree has become a prerequisite for a job in our modern, knowledge based economy. After all, why would this woman feel the need to pursue a bachelor's degree if she thought doing porn could provide her with a stable, long-term career? She wouldn't, because she's smart enough to know that to get a decent job in this economy you need at least a bachelor's degree, which requires a college education. Which leads to the ultimate question: Why do we all have to pay such a high cost for a college education?

I don't know the answer to this, but it is a question that needs to be widely discussed and debated. I was lucky enough to get merit-based scholarships that provided for my undergraduate education. But many students don't get either merit-based or need-based scholarships. Just like this young woman at Duke who decided to finance her education by doing porn, the majority of students in this country have to figure out on their own how to deal with the real financial burden that comes with an undergraduate education.

The high cost of education is morally and intellectually untenable. We, as a society, must reduce these costs so that our society can continue to allow people a fair shake at life. We should all have the opportunity to get an education at a reasonable cost so that we can pursue careers of our choice, not of necessity.