People that can afford college should pay for it

Nearly everyone in this country can agree that the cost of college tuition has gotten grossly out of hand. They force students to apply for long term loans and take on debt that will be paying off for years.

The price of a college degree has increased rapidly over the past few decades. According to USA Today, on average tuition in 2018 cost $48,510 a year for private institutions and $21,370 for public universities. In 1971, those figures were $18,140 and $8,730 respectively adjusting for inflation.

Costs have become so outrageous that even wealthier families, specifically those living on the North Shore, are reluctant to take on the burden of full tuition. Recent investigations in Lake County, Illinois, revealed that dozens of families had taken extreme measures to get their children financial aid and minimize the cost of college.

When students apply for financial aid using forms such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), they submit their family’s tax returns. To hide annual incomes that are too high to qualify for financial aid, parents have handed guardianship of their kids to another person so their child can declare as fiscally independent from their families. This unethical strategy gives money to students whose families can cover the cost of college.

The college admissions process already favors students of higher economic standing. In 2017, the New York Times found that 38 American universities (including five in the Ivy League) had more students from the top 1% of the income scale than the bottom sixty. 

There are countless reasons for this discrepancy. Wealthier families can pay for tutors, private counselors, multiple attempts at the ACT or SAT, and so much more. Students that come from affluence are already at an advantage in college admission, but that has not stopped the wealthy from cheating or bending the rules to get in.

Charges from the Varsity Blues scandal have recently been released, most notably celebrity Felicity Huffman’s sentence to 14 days in jail. Huffman also will pay $30,000 in fines, be on probation for a year, and complete 250 community service hours. For a multimillionaire, this sentencing is not very severe. However, there have been no consequences at all for the guardianship scandal in Illinois 

Technically, what these parents are doing is perfectly legal. Parents are allowed to transfer guardianship so long as it proves to be in the child’s best interest. Governor JB Pritzker has pledged to end the practice, but it is likely that wealthier families can find other ways to cheat the system.

Affluent families, already at an advantage, have the resources and capacity to manipulate the process to their benefit. When they are caught, the punishment tends to be lackluster. Wealthy students using this strategy are robbing those that worked hard to overcome economic obstacles in the college process in the first place.

There are countless valid reasons that a student would need to declare independence from their parents, such as estrangement or foster care. Tuition is expensive, but the people that can afford college tuition should pay for it – not steal from those who cannot. 

According to the Federal Reserve, as of June 2019, Americans owe over 1.6 trillion dollars in student debt alone. Going to college used to open doors, increase opportunities for better jobs, and allow for an increase in capital. Today, upon graduation students are already steeped in debt that follows them for decades. 

When affluent families scam their way into aid, they are not only denying a worthy candidate of college tuition — they are ensuring that more students who could qualify for aid will be forced into years of debt, economic uncertainty, and worry. This only increases income inequality and inhibits the possibility for upward mobility, which is a fundamental reason to go to college in the first place.