As the rising cost of a college education is leaving graduates deeply in debt, a new federal study points at a major reason for the trend. A Government Accountability Office report found that tuition now exceeds what states invest in public colleges and universities. “We are living in a highly competitive global economy and if the U.S. is going to succeed we need to have the best educated workforce in the entire world. But the sad truth is we are now competing against other nations around the world that make it much easier for their young people to go to college,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said.
The GAO study looked at rising tuition and falling state support for higher education from 2003 through 2012. At the beginning of that 10-year period, states provided 32 percent of the money for public colleges. Tuition totaled 17 percent. By 2012, the trend lines had crossed. Tuition accounted for 25 percent of public college revenue while state sources of revenue made up only 23 percent. “These increases have contributed to the decline in college affordability as students and their families are bearing the cost of college as a larger portion of their total family budgets,” the GAO report said.
Over the last decade, the cost of attending a public, four-year college has increased 57 percent at a time when middle -class incomes have remained flat.
It wasn’t always this way. In 1965, the average tuition cost at a four-year public university was $256. Until the 1970’s the City University of New York – one of the best university systems in the country – was tuition free. The University of California System did not begin charging tuition until the 1980’s.
“Forty years ago some of our great public universities, as well as many state colleges, were virtually tuition free. Today, the cost of college is unaffordable for many. In 1990, the United States was a world leader with its high college graduation rates. Today, we are in 12th place. Things need to change. Higher education must become affordable for all,” Sen. Sanders said.