Rising College Expenses: Legal Perspective

By Tristan Miller-Lammert, Trending Writer

Student loan debt is ridiculous in the United States. While countries such as Norway and France have free colleges, education in the U.S. is still very expensive. According to the Wall Street Journal, the class of 2015 is the most indebted ever.

The average 2015 grad will owe a little more than $35,000. This is double the amount from 20 years ago. Not only are prices and debts rising, but now 71 percent of graduates will have loans. This is up from less than 50 percent two decades ago.

“It’s unfortunate that college costs are going up and the student aid, the grants, are not going up at the same rate,” said data analyst Mark Kantrowitz. “College is becoming less and less affordable, though it’s still just as necessary.”

$68 billion in education debt is definitely unaffordable, and the reasons why are interesting. Looking at the issue legally can help shed some light on why this is happening.

One of the standout reasons for rising education costs is state funding. Public liberal arts schools are not receiving funding by states anymore, due to lobbying and other state interests. When these schools stop getting funding, they raise tuition to make up the difference.

Research universities’ main issue is private spending. Tuition at a lot of these schools cannot keep up with their spending so it just goes up.  Things like renovations, sports facilities, and funded research are costly. Most schools just increase tuition to make up for these costs instead of reducing spending.

The reality is not great for future students, but there are some new laws which will help. In the summer of 2010, a federal law passed which required colleges to be more upfront about costs. It forces colleges to be more accurate with their numbers, including things like books and smaller expenses.

This law now requires colleges to make net-price calculators for their websites. These help students estimate their tuition based on family income and other factors. Costs are high, but it is not always clear why. States pull funding and colleges spend money for legal and political reasons. At least the government is passing laws to help keep people in the know about what is going on.

As recently as this past election, Bernie Sanders proposed legislation to get rid of undergraduate tuition. This plan would give the government a $47 billion budget to deal with education costs. The College for All Act would split the cost between the government and the states.   

With laws that increase transparency and inform future students, the crisis is more manageable. Price calculators help prepare families for costs and movements like Sanders’ may eventually get traction. Hopefully future laws will inform, but also stop rising tuition.   

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, December 10th print edition.

Contact Tristan at



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