THE BLOG
06/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

College: Debt and Diplomas

Getting into college is like mounting a siege. One begins preparing for the long application process years beforehand, with counselor planning, a rigorous academic course load, and a mix of extracurricular activities - humane society, competitive bowling, student counsel - that students employ to feign a balanced lifestyle.

They work for years building the perfect resume and arming themselves to face a critical and controlling adversary. In the final year, the battlefield is set and dangerous standardized tests, application essays, and interviews are let loose like arrows and javelins. If you do get to the gates of the university, and if by some miracle, you can scale, climb, or traverse the great walls in front of you admission seems attainable. But it's not. Not yet.

There is a great myth that universities are becoming more accessible and widely democratized. While an increasing number of community colleges, trade schools, and state run universities are opening their doors to new students, an even greater number of colleges are working to maintain the exclusivity of higher education. A college education remains far from universal, because the financial burden for students is becoming only more and more crippling. The battle for a college education does not end with an admissions letter, it ends with a $90,000 government loan, and that brings up a whole new struggle later in life.

Of course colleges contend that they offer aid and financing to make a good college education a possibility for everyone. This is a mixed truth, as their definition of "aid" is often synonymous with the dictionary definition of "debt." Universities make paying for school possible in two ways: first, you can be brilliant, and some schools might offer you merit based scholarships. Second, you can show proof of "financial need," and generally they will offer an aid package they think fits your economic situation.

The problem is that their "aid" package doesn't necessarily provide relief from paying the full price of tuition, room and board, and general expenses. To universities, financial aid means offering loans and work-studies to make money available, not free.

It's hard to imagine many lower class families able to pay $100 a day for classes even when loans are available. Even for comfortable middle class families, attending a university like New York University, which costs almost $60,000 a year, becomes a crippling burden to parents and their children. State schools like the University of Colorado in Boulder, UC Berkeley, and a whole array of other California schools are planning to spike tuition costs. Both in-state and out of state students will bear this heavy burden. Few families are able to dish out a quarter of a million dollars for higher education. So without significant financial assistance, the students are left at the end of their academic battle with one final ultimatum: diploma and debt. In the U.S. a university education is costly, not universal.