Higher ed’s hefty price tag forces students to reconsider its value

College leaders need to communicate the true cost of a college degree, a new report declares. Here's where your potential applicants need more understanding.

Nationwide, folks are reconsidering the need for a college degree. Their reasons have varied over the years, but most people will tell you cost is their greatest barrier to entry in 2024.

That’s according to a recent survey from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, the latest read on Americans’ perceptions of the overwhelming cost of pursuing higher education.

Specifically, more than half (56%) of survey takers who are currently unenrolled consider the cost a “very” important reason as to why they’re not furthering their education beyond high school. It even deters those enrolled from completing their four years.

Thirty-one percent of enrolled adults say they’ve considered stopping out within the last three months because of costs.

“Attending a college degree or credential should lead to a good job and having a good life; it’s that simple,” Courtney Brown, Lumina vice president of impact and planning, said in a statement. “The fact that student debt is keeping them from that is a concern we need to take seriously.”

Brown’s remarks come in light of this research which also points to the long-term effects of higher education’s hefty price tag. Seventy-one percent of current and previously enrolled student loan borrowers report delays of at least one significant life event, including buying a home (29%) or a car (28%). Even those who borrowed less than $10,000 said they’ve been forced to stall an important life event.

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However, many people don’t know how expensive a college degree can be despite these findings. In fact, nearly half of the survey takers underestimate the price of a college degree by $5,000 or more, the data suggests. Another 31% overestimated its cost by that same amount.

Such misunderstanding could serve as a barrier for those who are looking to enroll, the authors note. Half of those who have never enrolled said they would be “much” or “somewhat” more likely to pursue higher education when told how much a college degree actually costs.

“On one hand, Americans are citing cost as a primary barrier to entry, but on the other, they are unclear about what that cost truly is,” Stephanie Marken, senior partner and head of education research, said in a statement. “Higher education leaders need to bring clarity to the true cost of college to reduce confusion and provide a pathway for the millions of Americans who have considered, but not yet enrolled, in a postsecondary pathway.”

Micah Ward
Micah Wardhttps://universitybusiness.com
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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