By Joseph Hood
Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum are decrying the exploding costs of higher education. Tuition is too high. Students are graduating with too much debt. College isn’t a jump start, it’s an anchor.
Still, all the platitudes and slogans are generally accurate assessments of the state of higher education affordability in the United States. Between 1981 and 2011, higher education tuition has increased 177% above inflation. Student debt is now estimated to be an eye-popping $1.3 trillion.
A 2014 survey by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that at 15 large public universities, 46% of students polled reported skipping meals due to increases in college costs. If the trend continues, the old stereotype of a college student living off ramen and peanut butter may be replaced by the far more disturbing image of students starving for an education.
Texas higher education is no exception. From fall 2003 to fall 2015, average statewide tuition at public four year institutions has more than doubled, increasing by 126%. Designated tuition, or the tuition set independently by the schools and not the state, has increased by a staggering 256%. As college costs increase, food banks are a growing trend on Texas campuses.
Under Texas Education Code Section 33.007, counselors in Texas public schools are required by law to inform students about “the importance of postsecondary education,” “financial aid eligibility,” and “instruction on how to apply for federal financial aid.” However, they are not required to tell students the cost of a postsecondary education.
The strongest language regarding college cost transparency in Texas law can be found in Section 7.040, which requires that information about college costs be provided by the TEA “to a public school student who requests the information.” There aren’t very many high school juniors and seniors with the knowledge or desire to request college cost information from the TEA.
This is an oversight with real consequences. State law requires that all students be encouraged to pursue a costly education and given the tools to pay for it on debt, but it does not require that students are informed of the costs of such a choice. Such requirements are like walking a new homeowner through the process of buying their home without ever showing them the home’s price. They may know how to pay for their home, but will be blindsided by the final price.
Texas students deserve to know the cost of postsecondary education before they have to pay their first tuition bill. Requiring counselors to provide their students with cost information and the advantages and disadvantages of taking on debt can only better prepare students for an inevitable reality. By requiring that the cost of higher education be included in the holistic postsecondary education advising process, Texas can better prepare its students for their futures, rather than hiding the price tag.
Many students cannot afford the alternative.