Last week, WSN reported on NYU’s intentions to lobby for increased state funding for tuition. Considering the university’s infamously high tuition, the change would be a welcome one. This new initiative from NYU would support a 20 percent increase in funding for scholarships for low-income students. In addition, the Tuition Assistance Program’s maximum award would increase to $6,000 and TAP’s maximum income eligibility would rise to $95,000.
When it comes to affordability, higher education is in crisis. Nearly 44 million graduates have debt, with the average greater than $30,000 per person. With a total greater than $1.5 trillion nationally, student debt has the potential to have a major impact on the U.S. economy. Students aren’t the only ones impacted by the failings of higher education. The decline of tenured positions and the rise in adjunct faculty positions have negatively affected the professional trajectory of the next generation of scholars. Furthermore, the academic job market isn’t the only one that’s troubling; reports show that the prevalence of bachelor’s degree holders is adversely affecting its value. With all of this said, the future of the American student isn’t looking bright. NYU has taken steps to prioritize affordability, but the issue is too big to expect the university to tackle it on its own.
It’s an ongoing trend — Brown University plans to replace student loans with scholarships through fundraising, and why “even” NYU Langone will provide tuition-free medical degrees to students. The methods of providing this increase in scholarship funding vary — they might depend primarily on university endowments, fundraising or alumni networks. But NYU’s state-oriented approach to increase accessibility is a positive step towards institutional and systemic change.
New York’s decision to lobby public institutions is a start in addressing the epidemic of rising costs in higher education. Colleges within the City University of New York will soon provide a tuition-free education for eligible students, essentially erasing the financial burden of college for those who suffer from it the most. But NYU’s intention to lobby for state funding indicates how the debate on whether or not tuitions should be funded by the government is no longer relevant to only public universities. As tuition and fees for universities continue to rise faster than the financial aid available for students, state intervention is inevitable in both the public and private sectors of education.
That’s not to say that some elite private universities aren’t already trying to ease the cost of education by offering more financial aid. Both Princeton and Yale are considered some of the best schools in the nation regarding financial awards for students. But these same schools also have some of the lowest number of low-income students, suggesting that education is still far from an equal field in various ways. Student loan debt only serves to exacerbate this issue.
This is a problem that cannot be ignored any longer. As the costs of higher education increase and student loan debt follows suit, it becomes clearer that we are allowing debt to crush the potential of our youth. Student loan debt destroys much more than just a sense of financial security; studies show that debt is fundamentally restructuring the way young people today approach some of life’s most important decisions. A review from the Center for Global Higher Education concluded that debt decreases entrepreneurship and leads to lower job satisfaction. There is also evidence that those with high debt put off a variety of milestones in their personal lives; research suggests that couples delay marriage because of embarrassment from debt, feeling they cannot truly start adult life without financial stability.
Student loan debt is a lock on the door for so many young Americans, one that prevents them from embracing the next stages of their lives. Instead, students often view their futures with uncertainty and fear. Given its position as one of the United States’ most expensive universities, NYU initiating efforts to lobby for tuition funds is a step in the right direction. However, this is just one single step on a very long path — one that can only begin once the U.S. takes an honest look at its vision for supporting future generations.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, print edition. Email the Editorial Board at [email protected]