The college years are bursting with opportunities. Around every corner, we encounter fresh possibilities. From here, the future looks wide open. As we look forward, however, many of us may face substantial student loans. In fact, our generation seems to be borrowing more than ever. Time reports that in the 1995-1996 school year Americans borrowed a total of $1 billion for college. During the 2001-2002 school year, however, Americans borrowed $5 billion for school. What has changed?
I believe that much of the increase in loans is due to a general increase in the number of students attending college. Many baby boomers were the first of their families to attend college and therefore placed a great emphasis on the value of education. The children of the baby boomers who have grown up with a deep respect for learning are now college-age. This has created a surge of students, all matriculating and receiving tuition bills.
Additionally, the deteriorating condition of our economy has affected many families. Lay-offs, pay cuts and decreased income have resulted in fewer funds being available for college. The recent recession of the stock market has depleted the funds of many college students, leaving them struggling for the means to pay bills.
Finally, interest rates are lower than they have been in decades. Many students and families are taking advantage of the relatively low cost of borrowing money.
Perhaps the biggest factor contributing to the spike in student loans is higher tuition. With more and more young adults going to college, education has become a big business. Colleges and universities can afford to be more selective in admissions and charge higher tuition. As most students can affirm, the college application process is a highly competitive one – it can be a monumental challenge to be accepted to the school of your dreams. With so many students vying for entrance into their programs, colleges don’t need to offer big financial aid packages to lure students. Less financial aid means more borrowing.
Financial aid is critical to attracting some of the best and brightest students. If a student were admitted to both Georgetown University and the College of William and Mary, for example, but was offered a substantial scholarship from the College, chances are that he/she would choose to attend school here in Williamsburg. By drawing the cream of the crop with scholarship money, we improve the quality of the student body. Top-notch students often attract some of the very best professors, which improves the quality of the college overall. Offering financial aid may win over extremely promising students who would enhance this institution’s level of education.
If we truly value education as much as we say we do, we will bite the bullet, borrow money and go to the best school that we can. Working hard to pay for our schooling may even make us value our learning experience more. However, in order for any college to reach its fullest potential, it must offer competitive financial aid and merit-based scholarships. Money talks; we want it to convince excellent students to attend our school. After all, not many of us are overly excited about paying off hefty student loans in the years to come. We have our futures to think about.