The majority of Americans think college is too expensive for most people to afford — although the widely held opinion has not hindered skyrocketing enrollment or stopped virtually all parents from expecting their child go to college, new research shows.
Seventy-five percent of people now say higher education is financially out of reach for most of the nation, according to the Pew Research Center. Locally, however, enrollment has gone up 30 percent in the last decade at public schools, and a high percent of graduates say their degree was a good investment.
“There are more students in college today than there ever have been, and going forward it’s going to be that much greater,” said Sean Creighton, executive director of the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.
Pew found that 94 percent of parents expect their child to attend college, but those students are shouldering a greater share of the costs to help operate public universities. Money budgeted by the state of Ohio for those institutions has fallen 18 percent in the last five years, more than the average national decline of 12.5 percent. Schools statewide are filling the gap by charging more in tuition and fees — expenses Ohio currently allows institutions to raise by up to 3.5 percent annually.
“We’re relying more and more on tuition as a primary source of our operating revenues,” said Mark Polatajko, Wright State University’s vice president for business and fiscal affairs.
Wright State is considering a $284 increase in the cost of annual tuition for undergraduates, bringing it to $8,354. Ten years ago, annual tuition was $4,596. The Board of Trustees will vote June 8 on the increase. Ohio State University is scheduled to vote on June 21 to increase tuition and mandatory fees 3.2 percent for next year. In-state undergraduates at OSU will pay $312 more annually: $9,615 in tuition and $421 in mandatory fees.
Miami University and Ohio University have already approved 3.5 percent tuition increases.
Ohio community colleges can raise annual tuition by as much as $200 for full-time students.
Average debt is $25,250
In Ohio, the cost of tuition and fees has gone up dramatically in the last nine years, increasing an average 42 percent at community colleges and nearly 57 percent at university main campuses, according to the Ohio Board of Regents.
Even in the face of those rising charges, 86 percent of college graduates today say their education was a good investment, according to Pew.
Daniel Albrektson, a Sinclair Community College graduate, said his degree was “a great investment,” although he has not yet found a job in his travel and tourism field of study.
“A college education is totally worth the money if you are wanting to get the experiences that you need in order to get the job and a better pay rate,” he said.
Albrektson is working part-time as a kitchen supervisor at the Middletown City Jail as he applies for jobs outside Ohio.
“I have applied to a lot of places within the travel industry. Unfortunately, the Dayton area just doesn’t have the job resources for my line of work,” he said.
“I am constantly looking everywhere for a job and keeping faith that I will find one soon,” he said.
Albrektson said he chose Sinclair for its low tuition, which next year will be $2,771 annually for full-time students from Montgomery County.
Tuition is just a portion of the cost some students incur during their undergraduate career, which can include room and board, books and other expenses, such as transportation or a laptop.
Sixty-eight percent of Ohio students take on debt to cover those costs, according to the Project on Student Debt, an initiative of the Institute for College Access & Success.
Ohio ranks seventh in the country for the number of students taking on debt and the amount they assume — more than $27,700 on average, according to the project.
Nationwide, average debt is $25,250 for those who graduated in 2010 — nearly double what students borrowed 14 years earlier, the project reports.
The cost of college widely varies by student, depending on whether they live at home or on campus, attend a for-profit school or public institution, receive grants or scholarships and many other factors.
“There is a public perspective that college is really expensive. Unfortunately it’s a generalized perspective,” Creighton said.
Costs can reach as high as more than $50,000 a year a private, for-profit four-year school, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Or as little as Sinclair’s tuition for Montgomery County residents, where the cost is kept lower by a countywide levy paid by property owners.
Private schools, such as the University of Dayton, are free to set their own tuition since they are not subject to the state’s budget process. At Dayton, tuition and fees — next year’s is $33,400 — make up 90 percent of revenue, according to school officials.
Wright State senior Nick Warrington has kept his own expenses low by working as resident adviser, earning free room and board; serving as student body vice president, a position that pays the cost of tuition; and holding various on-campus jobs.
Warrington is the first in his family to attend college. His mother, Bobbi, has worked three jobs to support her family after his father passed away from cancer when Warrington was 10. Because his father was a veteran, Warrington receives the Ohio War Orphans Scholarship. The Wellston native has still taken out about $18,000 in loans during his four years in school.
“It’s definitely worth it,” he said. “There’s much more to a college education than the lecture halls now and I think that’s where the true investment comes in. It’s not just a degree. It’s everything else you learn. The people that I’ve met. The opportunities have been endless.”
Warrington graduates June 9 and will pursue a master’s degree in higher education administration at Virginia Tech — he’s one of 11 people accepted in the program — where his tuition will be paid by his graduate assistant position and his living expenses covered by working in a fraternity house, he said.
Backlog of graduates
Ohio’s leaders are pushing for more college graduates as the state lags in the number of people with degrees needed to fill jobs, according to the Lumina Foundation, described as the nation’s largest foundation dedicated to increase “students’ access and success to postsecondary education.” It has more than $1 billion in invested assets.
The typical grad earns an estimated $650,000 more during a career than a high school graduate, Pew reported. But students today are entering a job market backlogged with recent graduates who finished college as the economy sank and unemployment for young people peaked at 10.4 percent in 2010, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Joe Hamlin has been competing with 400 other people for job openings at Dayton-area schools since earning his master’s from Antioch University Midwest and certification to teach English and language arts in grades seven to 12. Since then, he has been substitute teaching in hopes of connecting with a school district for a full-time job.
Ohio Chancellor Jim Petro is developing a plan that will likely focus on more students completing college. Half of the people who enter higher education in Ohio do not graduate, Petro has said.
“A student cannot enhance their employment prospects by listing courses or semesters completed on their resume,” Petro wrote in his blog this month. “When they leave college after multiple semesters of study without a certificate or a degree they have wasted their money and the state’s money. It is an economic loss and a loss of human potential that must be stopped.”