College students take out more and more student loans to pay their tuition bills with each passing year because tuition has risen at twice the inflation rate for more than two decades. But tuition is only part of the cost of going to college.
When you add in books, housing, and food, not to mention incidental costs like a cell phone, the cost of going to college for one year can be well over $30,000–even at a public university.
Let’s look at Louisiana State University, located just down the street from me. LSU requires its first-year students to live on campus unless they qualify for an exemption. This means that most of the 6,400 students who enroll for the first time will live in a dorm. First-year students must also purchase a meal plan.
According to LSU’s own calculation, the typical first-year student needs to come up with 24 grand just to pay tuition, room, and board. How many Louisiana families have $24,000 lying around to pay for their child’s first year at college?
And students have other costs besides the money that goes directly to the university. LSU estimates the total annual cost for an in-state student is $33,590! How many Louisiana families have that kind of money sitting in the bank?
Of course, many families figure out ways to spend less than $30,000 a year for their children to attend college. Students with good high-school academic records and good ACT scores can qualify for a TOPS scholarship that covers most college-tuition costs in Louisiana.
But even a first-year student who gets a “free ride” and pays no tuition must still come up with $12 thousand to pay for room and board. And in most instances, at least part of that money will be borrowed.
Now stretch these costs over four, five, or six years. A typical student who graduates from LSU in four years will have spent $130,000 to finance their studies. But only about two-thirds of LSU students graduate in six years! A student who pays in-state tuition and spends six years living in an LSU dorm will rack up costs totally almost $200,000.
Obviously, that’s far too much. And offering students free tuition at a public university (as Senator Bernie Sanders proposed) doesn’t provide a total solution.
Of course, tuition must come down, but students need to spend less time hanging out on college campuses. Spending six years to find oneself, financed with student loans, is a disastrous way to become an adult. And this is particularly true for students who spend six years in college to get a degree in art history, sociology, or gender studies.