Increasing costs of college education put students at risk

It was late April, and I sat anxiously waiting to hear back from colleges, not on my acceptance status, but rather from the financial aid office telling me how much money I would be awarded.

I am not one of the fortunate students who can afford to pay their way through four years in college. When I graduate in 2017, I will have accumulated a debt figure that runs into six digits.

The average debt for a graduating college student has risen, going slightly over $27,000 during the last academic year. With most loans hovering around an 8 percent interest rate, it will take an average student about eight years to completely pay off their loans. This is much easier said than done, as all these figures are contingent upon securing a financially sound job.

To make matters worse, the amount of financial aid being provided is dropping across the country. During the last school year, the average amount of student support dropped a whopping 9 percent, to an average of $5,846, the lowest it has ever been in 25 years, driving college graduates’ debt up by an average of 5 percent.

For years, the Federal Pell Grant has been the savior for low- to middle- income students in helping them afford the hefty costs of college. In 2011, a series of budget cuts approved by Congress cut approximately $5.7 billion from the Pell budget. The money went towards defense spending. The maximum possible grant was lowered by $845, and approximately 1.7 million students were axed from eligibility.

This is an absolute travesty. Not only were the given Pell grants lowered in value, but about 9.3 percent of all college students are being cut from the program, the only given aid for students in most cases. More and more high school seniors are basing their college decisions on how much they will be paying over the four years, not on how much they truly like a particular school.

Unfortunately, allocating funds for the financial aid program will mean taking money away from other important worthy projects. Colleges are working furiously to balance an already uptight budget with the increasing costs of educating a student for four years. University of Virginia recently voted to increase in-state tuition by 3.8 percent and out-of-state tuition by 4.8 percent. Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary both adopted similar, if not higher, increases in tuition. What for? These were all just precautions taken in order to preserve the financial future of each institution.

So what can we do? Unfortunately, there is no clear cut solution to this major dilemma. The economy is in too big of a hole to allow a sudden increase in financial aid distribution.

Sooner or later, politicians and policy makers must realize that taking too much away from college students can cause irrevocable backlash. People are starting to doubt if a college degree is truly worth its price tag or not.

As for me, I plan to take out countless loans to cover the exorbitant costs of college. I hope that eventually my business major will teach me some ingenious ways to maximize my resources and minimize the time it takes to pay off my debts, making my four years truly worthwhile.