A recent study from College Board relays some surprising facts about the rising cost of college. Indeed, the severity of the cost increases and who bears them may be not be immediately obvious. A New York Times article concludes that when taking inflation into account, the price of private colleges have increased by 1.6% annually over the past 20 years. After inflation, public four-year colleges increased by 2.3% and two-year programs decreased by .03%. The increases for four year schools are certainly alarming, but not quite as drastic as they’re often portrayed.
As the Times article conveys, misconceptions about the rising costs are due to the role that financial aid plays. All universities market a list or “sticker” price that captures an official cost. But according to College Board economist Sandy Baum, the actual cost that most families incur is much lower due to a variety of factors like grant aid and scholarships. Data from the College Board study confirms Baum’s analysis, showing the substantial dent that financial aid puts in tuition costs.
The data also show that low-income students receive far more financial aid than middle and upper class students. That assistance is paired with smaller cost spikes for low income students and larger ones for middle and upper class students. In fact, analysis from the Washington Post shows that families with incomes between $32,000 and $60,000 saw a 17% increase in college costs between 1992 and 2007, while families making more than $100,000 experienced a 24% increase. Those with incomes less than $32,500 saw a 3% increase.
What Can Education Leaders Do with this Information?
The data points expose the importance of school counselors. Although low income students incur lower college costs, they must submit accurate and compelling aid applications in order to acquire those costs. School counselors are in a prime position to help students with this work or bring it their attention. Counselors can also help students—particularly middle and upper income students that bear the brunt of college costs—prepare for and find scholarships that are targeted to their ethnicities, interests, work history, and extra-curricular activities. In a 2009 interview with CNN, Tally Hart, the senior adviser for economic access at Ohio State, reported that scholarships go unused because students often miss scholarship deadlines or submit sloppy applications. Instilling quality counselors into public schools provides a medium to decrease these issues and minimize the cost of college.
Counselors can also help with issues that are disguised within the college cost data. The aforementioned College Board report shows that cost estimates for low-income students are meager for two-year and four-year public colleges. This finding, however, conceals a critical fact about poor minority students. As a recent CPE article demonstrates, most low income, minority students that qualify for elite four-year schools don’t actually apply to those schools; instead, they opt for cheaper, less prestigious options or don’t go on to higher education at all. These opportunities are often missed due to a lack of information about financial aid and the college admissions process. Increasing or developing school counselors could provide college readiness details to students and their families, raising the number of qualified low- income students in 4 year programs and college cost data sets.
Unfortunately, the average school counselor’s caseload is bloated. The aforementioned CPE report states that the average student to counselor ratio in the U.S. sits around 470 to 1. That’s twice the amount that the American Counseling Association recommends. If education leaders want to help parents prepare for the rising costs of education, they must find ways to remedy excessive counselor caseloads or deliver college prep information through other mediums.