Rising State Tuition Makes College an Elusive Dream for Many Families

Back in the dark ages of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when I attended OSU, my parents were able to save enough on one college professor’s salary to send three kids to college and also live a pretty good lifestyle. When I decided to move out of the dorm into an apartment after my sophomore year, my parents said I had to pay for my food and apartment. (I’m sure they were hoping I would stay in the dorm.) At that time, I was able to work part-time and pay my way, leaving college debt free.

Fast-forward a few years. According to a 2012 article in Bloomberg News “The cost of obtaining a university education in the U.S. has soared 12 fold over the past three decades…1,120 percent since records began in 1978, four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index.”

Wages have not kept up with rising tuition. It’s very unlikely that a student could work part-time and pay his or her way through college, even with some help from parents. Money from parents plus money from a student job plus college loans might get a young person through school, but he or she will most likely be saddled with high debt to repay upon graduation.

There are some helpful programs in Oklahoma such as Oklahoma’s Promise, which provides free college tuition for students whose parents’ income is $50,000 or less. The students also must sign up in eighth, ninth or 10th grade. www.okpromise.org

And then there’s TCC’s Tulsa Achieves program for Tulsa County residents. Besides the Tulsa Co. residency, there are other eligibility requirements as well.

Another help for some is that President David Boren recently announced tuition waivers for children of OU employees.

Any program that will help Oklahoma’s youth enter college is worth the investment. But we could all use a little help. It would be nice if Oklahoma lawmakers and the governor would place a priority on education.

Both OU and OSU recently announced that they are raising tuition to make up for getting less and less money from the state. While tax cuts may make a good talking point for politicians, if you go below the surface, the cuts aren’t actually stuffing piles of money back into our pockets. Most of us will end up paying for those cuts somewhere, and for many parents, it will be in higher college tuition.

I’m not asking for a handout. Just a fair shake. Personally, I think having young people invest in their own education is a good thing. My kids all worked and have helped support themselves in one way or another through college. They may have had to sacrifice a little, and an unpaid internship in New York City was probably out of the question, but I feel that their experiences were positive and prepared them for life.

But if going to college or a technical school beyond high school becomes out of reach because of increasing tuition, the burden can become too much for families and students to bear. Too often there’s not that little extra at the end of the month to put into your 529 Plan.

Oklahoma policy-makers love to toss around the phrase “college and career ready” when they’re referring to our public schools, yet tax cuts and budget constraints are putting college more and more out of reach for more and more Oklahoma young people. Having fewer college-educated people in the state is not good for our economy, not to mention our psyche. What about the American Dream? For many debt-ridden students and their families, the dream is turning into a nightmare.

Categories: Editor’s Blog