Reforming Higher Education: Addressing the Rising Cost of College

Categories: Taxation

Protests across Wall Street and various locations have brought to the forefront the issue of skyrocketing college costs, leaving many students drowning in debt and struggling to secure meaningful employment after graduation. This paper explores the urgent need for reforms in the higher education system to alleviate the burden of student debt and ensure that education remains a pathway to a better future, as promised by the American social contract.

The Escalating Crisis

The severity of the current situation has worsened over the past few decades.

Since 1982, the average cost of college tuition and fees has ballooned by a staggering 439 percent, while the typical family's income has seen a mere 147 percent increase (Measuring, 8). When adjusted for inflation, students today are borrowing twice the amount they did a decade ago, with total higher-education debt surpassing credit card debt, reaching a daunting $1 trillion at the end of 2011 (Cauchon).

The weight of these numbers becomes even more apparent when considering the diminishing role of federal grants in funding higher education.

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Federal Pell Grants, designed to assist low-income students, now cover a mere one-third of the cost of attending a public four-year college in-state, compared to over 70 percent coverage in the 1970s (Abramson).

This disheartening reality challenges the notion that investing in education will lead to a prosperous future, as the rising cost of college threatens to undermine the American dream.

A Radical Proposal: Complete Student Loan Debt Cancellation

One radical solution recently proposed is the complete cancellation of all student loan debt by the federal government, with the aim of stimulating the economy (Caffentzis, 31).

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While this idea has gained traction, historical precedents suggest that such an approach may not be as effective as hoped. Past instances of tax rebate checks, for example, often led individuals to use the funds to pay off existing debt or save rather than stimulating immediate economic activity (Harris).

While complete debt cancellation may not be the silver bullet solution, several alternative measures can be implemented to make college more affordable and reduce the burden of student loans.

Practical Reforms for Affordable Higher Education

First, the government should significantly increase the number of need-based Pell Grants awarded to students. Additionally, students who choose more affordable public colleges or community colleges should receive more grant money. By incentivizing students to pursue cost-effective educational options, colleges would be motivated to keep tuition fees reasonable to attract prospective students.

Furthermore, colleges should work to reduce administrative costs, a significant contributor to the soaring tuition fees. Unlike other industries that continuously improve efficiency, universities often overlook this aspect, resulting in tuition fees that seem immune to reduction. The proliferation of administrators and staffers on campuses should be addressed, and universities should strive for greater efficiency (Ginsberg).

Private student loans should also be subjected to reform. These loans could require school certification, be eliminated altogether, or be mandated to offer the same interest rates and repayment options as federal student loans. Additionally, increasing the income limits for student loan deductibility and revising repayment rules can ease the financial burden on borrowers.

Progressive Taxation for Higher Education Funding

One effective way to fund student grants is to revise the country's tax rates to levels similar to those in the 1950s. During that period, individuals paid 91% or 92% of their income above $200,000 to the federal government. In contrast, the current rate hovers around 35%, where it has remained for the past decade (Historical).

Adjusting tax rates to increase the burden on the wealthy would provide the necessary funding for student grants, ensuring that higher education remains accessible to all, regardless of socioeconomic status. In an era where a skilled and educated workforce is crucial for technological advancements and economic growth, this investment is imperative (Meltzer).

Redefining Bankruptcy and Debt Discharge

The bankruptcy system, which currently prohibits the discharge of student loans, needs reform. Unlike other debts that can be discharged, student loans have no statute of limitations, and the government can legally garnish money from low-income student borrowers' Social Security benefits and Earned Income Tax Credit (Caffentzis, 35).

Revising bankruptcy laws to allow for the discharge of education loans, similar to other types of debt, is essential for creating a fair system. Treating student loan debt differently serves as a boon to banks, as they benefit from guarantees by the federal government while restricting borrowers' options (Cohen).

Efficiency and Innovation in Higher Education

Colleges should also maximize their resource efficiency by outsourcing operations like food services, IT support, building maintenance, and student bookstores. Collaborative purchasing initiatives can help institutions obtain goods and services at lower costs through collective bargaining, a strategy already employed by companies like Wal-Mart (25).

Additionally, the adoption of online education should be expanded, enabling students to access courses remotely and reducing commuting and room-and-board expenses. Digitization of library holdings and the selection of textbooks available in e-book formats can also contribute to cost savings (Cavanaugh).

Investing in Our Future

As the global landscape becomes increasingly competitive, the United States must prioritize education as a cornerstone of its economic success. Other nations already offer free or heavily subsidized higher education, recognizing its pivotal role in shaping the future workforce (Humphrey).

Reforms in the higher education system are not only a matter of economic equity but also a necessity for the nation's continued prosperity. By implementing the suggested measures, we can ensure that education remains a viable pathway to a brighter future, fulfilling the promise of the American dream.

Updated: Nov 13, 2023
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Reforming Higher Education: Addressing the Rising Cost of College. (2016, Aug 14). Retrieved from

Reforming Higher Education: Addressing the Rising Cost of College essay
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