College Tuition May Be Just Out of Reach for the Middle Class

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In America, the surest way to get ahead is through attending college. When you get a degree or two under your belt, you’re in line for better jobs and higher pay. However, the literal cost of getting this education is higher than you might think. Now, financial analyses are showing that even the middle class are struggling to pay for college.

Low-Income and Middle-Class Families Both Struggle

College tuition rates are higher than they’ve ever been, and low-income students aren’t the only disadvantaged group when it comes to tuition costs. It’s true that people are more likely to seek a degree when their income is higher, but that doesn’t mean they can pay for it without help.

A recent study from the Institute of Higher Education Policy showed that middle-income students-even those who are considered relatively wealthy-are still forced to take out loans for their tuition. In some cases, they can’t even get enough loans to pay for their dream school.

Based on Lumina Foundation’s standard of affordability, the study looked at the tuition costs of more than 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide. It revealed that families earning between $50,000 and $70,000 a year can only afford five percent of universities and colleges without loans and just 26 percent of colleges with loans.

On the other side of the spectrum, families who earn around $36,000 a year can afford just two percent of schools without loans and 19 percent of schools with loans. Middle class students are at a slightly higher advantage than those from low-income households, but the difference is small.

Then, there are those at the higher end of the middle class. Families making just over $100,000 a year can only afford 41 percent of schools without loans and 64 percent of schools with loans. This is a much better outlook, but it’s still a struggle for many families to make ends meet.

Financial aid makes it possible for lower-income students to attend colleges, but those in the middle class don’t receive this support. Most barely fail to qualify.

Robert Kelchen, a financial aid expert and assistant professor at Seton Hall University explains to the Washington Post the plight of middle-class students: “They are getting squeezed on both ends because they barely miss Pell Grants and they are not the types of students getting grants from colleges themselves.”

Lasting Economic Impacts

About 40 percent of students choose not to attend school, even after being accepted, because they can’t afford it. There are lasting effects, no matter what.

First, there’s the debt factor. Most students can’t escape the educational process without student loans. The amount of student loan debt took a six percent hike from last year; now, the average college student graduates with $37,172 in debt. Many college students will take decades to pay back their loans, which puts them at a serious disadvantage when starting their careers.

More high school graduates are choosing to walk straight into the workforce rather than getting an education first. This has led to a decrease of students who enter college, and greater demands for minimum wage hikes. As minimum wage rises, lower-class jobs decrease, raising the unemployment rate.

Pushes for Affordable College

Activists are constantly pushing for more affordable education. Daniel R. Porterfield, President of Franklin & Marshall College, is a huge advocate of improving financial aid for students from low-income families. He also wants to expand financial aid to include more people.

“We need to expand opportunity and aid policies for both Pell students and for middle-income students who are not Pell-eligible,” he said in the same Washington Post interview mentioned previously.

The work to make tuition more affordable persists, but there’s a long way to go. Anyone who supports the campaign for more affordable tuition can join the cause and pledge their support for those in Congress pushing affordable tuition bills.

Make College More Affordable

It’s great to support political efforts to make college more affordable, but by the time change happens, it might be too late for you. While you’re struggling to pay your bills, here are some things you can do:

  • Study smarter so you quality for scholarships.
  • Get hired as a teacher’s aide or find another on-campus job for just 10 hours a week.
  • Invest some cash in a high-interest savings account your freshman year, and use the dividends to pay off some student loans after you graduate.
  • Look into private colleges that might offer lower tuition rates.
  • Don’t worry about applying to a more prestigious college-unless it’s from an Ivy League school, employers don’t care where you got your degree.

Change will happen slowly as government officials and universities work to make college more affordable. In the meantime, it’s important to take charge of your financial situation and make the most of your education.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.