Today, money seems to be everything. In a world of hyperinflation and economic crisis, any and every service or product is more expensive than it has ever been, including educational costs.
In the past few years alone, educational costs have hit the roof, and people have been wondering, “Which is more important, money or education?” On the one hand, we aren’t learning key money lessons in school, and on the other, we are shelling out for what we perceive to be “quality education.”
But, do educational costs need to be exorbitant to give value? Is there a way to reduce this expenditure? Let’s find out.
Why is education so expensive?
According to the USA’s National Center for Education Statistics, the country has seen a 497% increase (double the inflation rates) in college tuition fees between academic years 1985-86 and 2017-18. This is not something isolated to the USA; In 2019, 84.72% of Australian schools increased their fees by more than the then-current inflation rate (1.8%).
So, why are educational costs through the roof today? The answer is simple: there is a cost for everything. Today, schools and colleges have so much to offer to students in terms of resources and facilities. While these make the lives of students easier, institutions end up looking at them as a way of making money.
Given below are some of the factors that affect educational costs and have raised it over time:
As mentioned before, schools and colleges are offering more infrastructure, be it audio-visual rooms or cutting-edge research facilities. While these may help improve the educational standards or learning process, it also adds to the overall costs of education. Any tuition fee breakdown will show you specific fees for computers and other facilities. As such, while students find these facilities as a stepping stone to success, institutions see them as cash cow.
Student services are something that most colleges today are focusing on. These include healthcare facilities and counselling that potentially benefits the students quite a lot, helping them remain physically and mentally healthy. However, these benefits come with the price of employing the right professionals for the job. This becomes yet another factor in increasing tuition fees in schools and colleges.
Increased students numbers and aid
A basic rule in Economics is, “increased demand results in increased supply.” When it comes to education, the rule remains pretty much the same. In the last few decades, education has become more accessible than it was before. While there remain several communities in the world without access to education, the number of students attending schools and colleges have increased significantly.
For instance, in Australia, the gross percentage of tertiary school enrollment in 2018 was 107.808 as opposed to 31.5 in 1988. The numbers aren’t very different in other countries. This has led to an increase in the availability of student financial aid. While financial aid has helped hundreds of students to fulfil their academic goals, it has also given universities an excuse to increase tuition fees, as they know the means are available.
Resources and materials
Yet another factor contributing to the rising educational costs is the resources and materials given to students. If you look at the breakdown of tuition fees, you will find study material included in it. These are textbooks prescribed for a course that cost a hefty sum. While the materials may or may not help students on their learning journey, it certainly fills the pockets of institutions with a commission from the author or publishing house for the recommendation.
Teachers are the primary cog in the machinery that education resembles. These are individuals that impart knowledge and turn students into better human beings. However, they are also one of the most expensive assets in a school or university. Universities, especially, spend an exorbitant amount on educators that are established in their fields.
They don’t do so just to ensure quality education on their campus; a hidden agenda is to brand the university through the influence of the educator. The result of this little marketing gimmick is increased tuition fees, as someone has to pay when public funding is at an all-time low in education.
2020 saw the global inflation rates reach 3.18%, which is interesting enough a decrease from 3.51% in 2019. Looking at these numbers, it is needless to say that inflation has been hitting us hard and will continue to do so in the coming years. This has significantly increased the cost of living and education.
When teachers and other education professionals need a salary hike and resources and utilities cost more, educational costs increase to meet the demands of a society facing inflation.
How can we reduce educational costs?
So far, we have seen a rough breakdown of educational costs and briefly looked at the factors that contribute to expensive tuition fees. Now, we will look into ways to reduce these expenses to make education more accessible and democratic than it is currently. On that note, let us see which of the factors mentioned above can be avoided and how.
For starters, it is time we consider alternatives to many things that bog down the educational costs. These include the way student services and aiding materials are offered. For instance, universities can outsource their student service activities, which can significantly cut down their costs. Furthermore, students themselves must opt for alternatives for a four-year degree through online courses, associate degrees, and community colleges.
In today’s world, where education is rife with the influences of technology, employers are considering alternate skill certifications just as much as they would a college degree. Therefore, students must take advantage of this by enrolling on courses that benefit both their resume and bank balance.
Continuing from the previous point, students and teachers must consider alternative learning methods and mediums. This can reduce educational costs and make education accessible to all. One way to achieve this is through hybrid education.
Now, this could mean mixing online and on-campus classes. On the flip side, it can also include allowing students to earn credits through external courses and continuing the college degree through these courses. This can help students save time and money while allowing institutions to cut down their resource costs.
We are all familiar with the adage, “Sharing is caring.” A fun fact, according to scale economics, is that sharing can also mean saving. To be more precise, sharing resources and purchasing power can save organizations thousands and millions spent on buying supplies—this is known as consortium purchasing.
Educational institutions can take advantage of this and use the opportunity to collaborate with neighbouring schools and universities with the same order from the same vendor. The bigger the order, the more discount you get. In terms of educational costs, this can mean a reduction in tuition fees as resources cost lesser.
Reduce unnecessary programs
Today, colleges with the most number of courses are top-grade and a messiah of quality and comprehensive education. However, the fact is, most of these courses are obsolete or run at a loss, requiring extra funding.
While more courses in a university are certainly any learner’s blessing, it can also increase tuition fees unnecessarily. The solution is to cut down on programs that are an extra expense and encourage alternate mediums for those interested in the subject.
Go beyond the stamp
Perhaps the best way to reduce educational costs is to go beyond the stamp. Students, parents, employers, and educational institutions have the tendency to gravitate towards options that come with a stamp of approval. In students and parents, this means choosing institutions that are renowned and well-established even at an exorbitant cost. For educational institutions, it means going for faculty who are at the creamy layer in a particular field.
In 2021, it is finally time to go for options that offer value instead of a brand. Educational institutions, for starters, can employ volunteers and unsung (yet great) staff to ensure cost savings and quality education. On the other hand, students, parents, and employers can begin prioritizing the value of education over a prestigious name on the resume.
Education as a social service
Finally, education professionals should see and practice education as a social service over monetary benefits. True change can only begin when education is not treated as a commodity but as a right. This begins with educators going beyond monetary benefits and recognizing the true mission of education—spreading valuable knowledge and skills to society.
To sum up, let’s go back to the question that took us on an exploration of educational costs—can we take money out of education? Yes. How? With a collection shift in the way, we approach education and learning.
This is a change that may take years to reach completion and requires every cog of the machine—educators, students, parents, employers, and society— to contribute and actively work towards. However, when done right, this shift will reduce not only educational costs but also empower human beings as a whole.