Defenders of the higher-ed status quo are fond of defending sky high tuition by noting that “almost nobody pays full price for college.” This may have been true, but at many public schools “almost nobody” is beginning to cover an an increasingly large group of people. Although the concept of “set-asides,” where tuition rises on wealthier students to subsidize financial aid programs for poorer ones, is nothing new, cutbacks in state aid have decreased the money available to schools to the point where students of increasingly modest means are being asked to pay for these subsides. And as the WSJ reports, parents are becoming incensed:
“It’s an additional tax, and it’s hidden,” said Fred Eshelman, a member of the Board of Governors at the University of North Carolina, where the cost of set-asides has tripled to $1,724 in 2012 from $535 in 2006, according to university officials. “If folks are paying full boat and supporting others without knowing it, I don’t think that’s right.” […]Mr. Twedt earns about $90,000 as a manager in an insurance office, and his children don’t qualify for federal aid. He estimated the set-aside program would cost his family about $20,000 through four years of college. He expects each of his children will graduate with about $25,000 in student loan debt.
This is a difficult problem. Nobody wants a school system where it is impossible for the poor to go to college, yet it strikes many as deeply unfair that only slightly better-off students who are struggling to pay for college themselves are being asked to subsidize their education. Sadly, there are no easy solutions: more than anything, this is a sign that the current trends in the higher-ed market are simply unsustainable. Costs will have to come down.