By Matt Kyle | Staff Writer
A college education is a costly investment that only continues to get more expensive. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 1985, the average cost of tuition for one year of a bachelor’s degree was $5,504. In 2021, that number had risen to $35,720, as shown by the Education Data Initiative.
Every year, the cost of college goes up by about 6.8%. According to Dr. James West, a W.H. Smith professor of economics, the yearly increase in the cost of college can be attributed to a rise in the cost of doing business. West said many factors contribute to the higher cost of business, including faculty and administrative salaries, hiring more employees, benefits for employees and the cost of utilities and supplies.
West also said tuition prices increase due to the fact that students are willing to meet the higher prices for their education, meaning demand is always high.
“In many ways, the tuition at Baylor is dependent upon what people are willing to pay,” West said. “We had a record entering freshman class last year. Baylor’s a unique institution. We offer something kind of unlike any other university in the country, and we have a very loyal customer base, so there is a high willingness to pay.”
West said students are willing to meet higher prices because a degree gives them access to higher-paying jobs in the future, although that access depends on a student’s major.
“Things like engineering, computer science — those tend to be more stable professions,” West said. “For the types of majors where people don’t earn tremendously elevated salaries over high school, honestly, getting a degree is financially a money-losing proposition.”
West also said students may consider the college experience as part of the value of their degree: things like getting to run the Baylor Line, attending a well-known university and having access to amenities like the McLane Student Life Center.
“The question is, when you go to a place like Baylor, what is it that you’re buying?” West said. “Are you buying an experience, or are you investing in acquiring skills that will enable you to earn a higher salary when you get out?”
Being a private institution, Baylor’s tuition numbers are higher than average, with tuition costing $49,246 in 2021. Baylor students cited several reasons why they chose Baylor over another cheaper option for school. Thousand Oaks, Calif., freshman Joshua Soto said he wanted to attend a Christian university. Fairfax, Va., sophomore Lilly Flanders said Baylor offered her many opportunities for scholarships.
“I would not be here without those, especially as an out-of-state student,” Flanders said. “I really liked the programs Baylor had and the University Scholars Program, which is really helpful in what I want to study.”
The willingness to meet higher prices has also been supported by the increased access to student loans. Federal student loans are given out no matter the ability of the borrower to repay them, which West said only incentivizes universities to increase prices.
“I think a lot of higher ed economists are worried,” West said. “You have people willing to pay, and the federal government is basically subsidizing this by offering plentiful loans. Higher ed has many elements of a classic bubble. This is worrisome. There’s very little incentive for cost containment. This is the reason why top schools are so hideously expensive. There are a finite number of seats available. A large number of people want to get those seats, and you have what amounts to a bidding war. Federally guaranteed student loans in general have made that possible.”
Currently, the amount of student loan debt in the U.S. has ballooned to a $1.6 trillion burden shouldered by 44 million Americans, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data. President Joe Biden has canceled $11 billion of student loans and recently extended the pause on student loan repayments until May 1, 2022, but student debt still looms over many Americans.
While Thousand Oaks, Calif., freshman Grace Viso said the price tag of attending Baylor and the idea of loans were initially concerning, she said she feels confident in her ability to repay the loans she took out.
“It was stressful at first when I was picking schools, but my scholarship has helped me out a lot,” Viso said. “On top of that, I kind of see myself as an investment. I’m confident in myself and my work ethic, so honestly the money isn’t that big of a deal. Baylor has a really great alumni program, which I plan to utilize, and Baylor has a lot of great resources in order to make me successful.”