Over the past few years it’s been all but impossible to realize 5% gains on your investments, or even to see your salary rise with inflation. So the news that undergraduate degree costs rose 5% this year is both dismaying and totally unsurprising (especially when they also rose 4.3% in the 2011-2012 school year). Increasingly debt-burdened, today’s college students and recent college grads are finding the huge cost of school to be an insurmountable burden in a slow economy. Of course these twentysomethings can’t buy cars or houses – they have thousands of dollars in debt to not pay back. The news of Canada’s roughly 5% average rise coincides with a trend explained in the latest issue of Bloomberg News, The Debt-Free College Degree. University administrators, aware of the debilitating burdens of mammoth debt, have begun experimenting with using their vast endowments to make sure their students graduate debt-free. In the United States, where tuition can easily run more than $40k per year, the move is both welcome and necessary. While it’s true that only schools with large endowments are in a position to make such healthy offers to needy students, it’s nice to see that administrators, once fairly content to watch fees rise, are recognizing the scale of the problem and trying to find solutions.
In Canada, where tuition is rising precipitously, the feeling that we need to do something is palpable. Witness the Quebec Student Strike, which helped bring about a change in government. Quebec students saw their tuition rise 10% over last year, though they still pay the lowest in the country, alongside Newfoundland and Labrador.
What’s a Western Democracy that Appreciates the Importance of College Education To Do? It’s hard to say, but innovation, like experimenting with debt-free degrees, is certainly a welcome move in these days of high-price higher ed. And while that idea only creates pockets of affordability at the extreme ends of the income spectrum, perhaps the next innovative idea will involve something closer to remotely affordable higher education for all that truly want it.