Op-ed: Alleviating boundaries to higher education

Adrian Tolstoy, contributor

The so-called “land of opportunity” lacks accessible higher education, especially compared to many other developed nations. The United States is undergoing a student debt crisis, with student debt nearly doubling over this past decade. Considering college tuition has increased eight times faster than wages in the United States, this overwhelming debt is inevitable. The Northeastern student body should take action by pressuring politicians to ease the student debt crisis and make college more financially accessible.

Over the past 10 years, the average cost of private college tuition has increased by over $10,000, putting the average cost of tuition at $34,740 in 2019. The average cost of public college in-state and out-of-state is $10,116 and $22,577 respectively. 18-year-old students can’t possibly be expected to afford tuition without some form of aid, scholarships or help from parents and relatives.  

Considering the rising cost of tuition, some students may be deterred from even attending college, but unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult for high school graduates to find  high-paying jobs without a college degree. As a result, in the current system, Americans are obligated to attend college so they’re considered eligible for high-paying careers, even though they cannot afford it. Leading up to today, Americans have accumulated a total student debt of $1.5 trillion and this amount will have detrimental impacts on generations to come. 

The current structure favors high-income families that face less pressure to pay the increasing cost to attend higher education, effectively expanding the income inequality gap in America. This system may make students of low-income families feel like it is rigged against them, possibly contributing to the dramatic distrust in the government. According to a Pew Research Center study, only 17 percent of Americans have faith in their government. As an international student, this image of the United States is not what I was sold. This country was founded on the principle that everyone should have equal opportunity to succeed. It was a major reason why I, and many other international students, chose to come here – to be woven into the social fabric and immerse ourselves in the mentality of the American Dream. 

As high-paying jobs and college degrees are becoming far out of reach, and student debt continues increasing drastically, barriers to success are growing so high for most Americans that they are now unsurpassable. Sen. Elizabeth Warren captured this sentiment in a statement about education in 2013, when she said, “As I travel all across the Commonwealth, I meet young people who have done everything right: they played by the rules, they worked hard, they finished college and yet they’re finding themselves unemployed, drowning in debt and in many cases, moving back home with their parents. These young people did all we asked of them – and they’re getting slammed.” 

A more accessible college system would not only restore equality to the land of opportunity, but it would also help reduce the mental health crisis in the United States. Reports find massive debt can stress students out and negatively impact their mental health. In Sweden, where I am from, and in countries like my own, where higher education is free, students are less stressed about making ends meet to afford college. 

A utopian solution would be to erase college tuition and make it free, as proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. However, this policy would require tremendous tax increases, something that is unlikely to occur in the near future. But it is in that line of development America must move in. A good start would be to make community colleges tuition-free, decrease the cost of public universities and incentivize private colleges to be generous with financial aid. These fiscal changes are already promoted by the platforms of presidential candidates Sanders and Warren. 

As U.S. residents are subject to nationwide issues, it should be in every Northeastern student’s interest to mitigate both the student debt and mental health crisis by supporting making college more financially accessible. Northeastern students should support Warren and Sanders and their higher education platforms in order to equalize access to opportunities for the sake of themselves and the nation. After all, what is the “land of opportunity” without opportunity?

Adrian Tolstoy is a second-year economics and business administration combined major.