This time of year has us thinking about many things. However, back to school has become a season unto itself – especially at the retail level, with parents looking for ways to both save and spend money. As higher education costs continue to skyrocket, most students and their families are burdened with crippling debt that hinders social mobility and restricts access to quality education. With the recent United States Supreme Court ruling overturning the President’s promise to forgive all student debt, it’s time to rethink how young people afford college and how accessibility becomes a key issue.
There are several ways to address this crisis. Colleges and universities should first be required to tap into their considerable endowments to lower the cost of college. Moreover, the United States government should redirect and focus funding on community and public schools, which serve as vital educational resources for local municipalities and people looking for a solid education. By combining the financial strength of institutions and strategic government investment, we can create a more equitable and accessible higher education system.
Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to significantly impact the affordability of education through their endowments. These funds, built from generous donations and prudent investments, often accumulate into billions of dollars. Instead of accumulating wealth without a clear purpose, these institutions should leverage their endowments to alleviate the financial burden on students. Endowments are typically said to be held for “rainy days.” I’ve looked through the window, and it’s pouring outside. For these institutions of higher learning to sit on endowments of this considerable largess and then to continue to raise money from alumni unrestrictedly while costs escalate is unacceptable.
Using endowments to lower tuition fees and expand financial aid programs could be an important first step to ensure that higher education is accessible to students from all socio-economic backgrounds. By redistributing wealth within the education system, colleges and universities can foster greater diversity, opening doors for talented individuals who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education. This, in turn, promotes equal opportunity and social mobility, breaking down barriers and creating a more equitable society. There are many great universities – not everyone will be able or entitled to attend an Ivy League school; however, from community colleges to state universities and anything in between is a great first start.
Critics argue that utilizing endowments for this purpose could harm institutions’ financial stability. However, a prudent and well-managed approach can minimize such risks with careful consideration of the long-term impact. Institutions should prioritize transparency and accountability by establishing clear guidelines for endowment use and regularly reporting to stakeholders. By incorporating financial experts and education policymakers in these decision-making processes, colleges and universities can strike a balance between safeguarding the institution’s future and investing in the students it serves. The Board of Trustees, as the governing body of these institutions, must identify an agreeable spending rate from the endowment that is solely used for financial education – put the onus of pricing back on the colleges and universities.
While private institutions have amassed substantial endowments, public and community schools are often underfunded and struggle to provide adequate student resources. Redirecting government funding to these institutions can level the playing field, ensuring all students have access to quality education. In fact, an almost 70-year-old university outside of Philadelphia recently closed due to a lack of funding.
Community colleges, in particular, play a vital role in higher education. They offer affordable pathways for students seeking vocational training, associate degrees, or a cost-effective route to a four-year institution. By allocating government funding to these institutions, we can enhance their capacity to provide comprehensive education and support services to a broader population segment. This would enable individuals to acquire skills demanded by the job market and enhance local economies.
Public universities also deserve attention, as they offer critical opportunities for students who aspire to receive a high-quality education without incurring massive debt. By increasing government funding to these institutions, we can expand enrollment capacities, hire more faculty, and upgrade infrastructure to accommodate a larger student body. This, in turn, would help meet the growing demand for higher education and reduce the burden on private institutions, ultimately leading to greater accessibility and affordability for all students.
I would also suggest paying particular attention to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. While the slim majority are public, many are classified as private and still need funding to maintain their important place in the higher education system.
Critics argue that limiting government funding only to community and public schools would undermine students’ and families’ autonomy and freedom of choice. However, by strengthening these institutions, we do not diminish the role of private colleges and universities; we merely ensure a more balanced and inclusive education system. Students would still have the option to pursue higher education in the private sector but also have reliable and affordable public alternatives.
To address the escalating costs of college education in the United States, colleges and universities must tap into their endowments, using these funds to lower tuition fees and expand financial aid programs. Simultaneously, the government should allocate funding to community and public schools, bolstering their capacity to provide quality education to a wider population. By combining these two approaches, we can foster an educational landscape that is more accessible, equitable, and supportive of student success.
It is time for higher education institutions and the government to collaborate, harnessing the power of endowments and strategically investing in public institutions. Together, we can build a future where every individual has the opportunity to acquire a higher education without being shackled by the burden of debt and where the benefits of education are within reach for all.
Steve Rosenberg is Principal of the Team GSD. He is the author of the book, Make Bold Things Happen: Inspirational Stories From Sports, Business and Life, available on Amazon and in local bookstores.