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The Cost of the College Experience

College is so prominent in the U.S. Hundreds of movies have been made about the “college experience”. They depict college as a cultural experience, a right of passage, which in some ways it is. 

More people than ever are pursuing education past high school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the fall 2019 semester had 19.9 million students attend full-time and 7.8 million part-time. More than a third of U.S. adults have a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Dept. of Ed.).  

So all of these well-educated people must be getting great jobs. They must be buying cars, getting mortgages and having kids with no financial trouble because of all the money they’re making.


It’s true there are more people in college than generations before. Part of that is because higher numbers of women are attending, 11.3 million compared to 8.6 million men. And more people of color, with a record number of Hispanic people, 3.6 million. 

But with this influx of college students, there has been a huge increase in student debt. The average time it takes to pay off student debt is 20 years. How are we supposed to buy cars and houses and raise kids if we spend so much of our lives paying for the education that we need to be successful? 

30 years ago, the average student graduated with $10,000 in debt. Now, the average student graduates with approximately $29,200, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

No wonder millennials aren’t buying houses or diamonds, a mortgage payment on top of student loans, not to mention the costs of maintaining a home, can be crushing.

Higher education has always been an institution. It is not easily accessible and is completely out of reach for a large part of the population. 

So why do we see it as a cultural norm?

Why do we not educate high school seniors about the cost of their education? Not just financially, but how their loans will impact their lives after school. 

Instead of letting students inform their vision of higher education with movies about college hijinks, let’s show them the realities of money and the potential cost of their futures.

Tess Ware

C Mich '21

Hi, my name is Tess and I’m a double major in Journalism and Women and Gender studies at Central Michigan University. Planning to become a media writer after I graduate. I want to empower people through my writing and hope to someday write a book on the intersection of Feminism and Paganism. I’m a huge crafter, I love knitting and altering clothes I find at thrift stores. I listen to a lot of audiobooks in my free time. I’m really excited to be co-campus correspondent and Editor-in-Chief for HerCampus-CMich and continue to develop my voice, writing and leadership skills.
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