Rise in graduate education costs adversely affect students, universities, and society


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Our elected officials may be fighting the wrong battle.

In the last 30 years, college tuition and fees have increased more than medical-care costs — and twice the rate of inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And even after undergraduate work, that cost doesn’t let up, as students accumulate serious amounts of graduate-college debt.

Yet students are confronted with a frightening conundrum: In a time when having an undergraduate degree is increasingly insufficient, the cost of graduate school continues to rise, becoming financially unattainable for many. Still, having an advanced degree is often the difference between moving up and staying put in a job market flooded with advanced degrees. From 1996-2006, the number of master’s degrees awarded in the United States increased 43 percent, according to the Council of Graduate Schools.

But despite the steep cost of attending graduate school, University of Iowa Graduate College Dean John Keller said he didn’t see a problem.

“Actually, it might be better if it was a little more expensive, considering the level of education and how much higher it is than undergraduate degrees,” Keller said.

“More expensive” graduate education may seem cruel to students, who rack up an average of more than $40,000 in debt, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Each individual must understand the costs going into graduate school; they simply cannot be ignored. But what we cannot ignore is the lack of aid available to students.

Fewer than 4 percent of graduate students receive a federal or state grant to augment their own payments, and the average college gives fewer than 20 percent of graduate students a scholarship.

Furthermore, 60 percent of graduate students receive no money at all, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The UI provides relief to its graduate students, but it comes in the form of becoming a teaching assistant. This financial support is beneficial, but — with the decreasing number of TA positions at the university — few can take advantage of it. This school year, the UI has cut 150 of those positions.

While graduate students can apply for federal or private loans, that can lead to a deluge of problems once they graduate, such as high interest rates and bankruptcy. For many, this ossifies their educational potential, leaving them little choice but to prematurely enter into the job market.

“I have a lot of friends from undergrad who went straight into the workforce,” Graduate Student Senate President Kristina Rogers said. “They don’t like the career they are going into, but it is so difficult for them to go back to school. They have house payments, car payments, and kids to support.”

Graduate colleges — including at the UI — need to take drastic steps to make it easier for students to receive a postgraduate education and quickly enter the working world, thus enabling them to burn off their debt.

In the absence of increased state funding to slow the rise in graduate-school costs, colleges need to provide incentives for accelerated graduation. For example, graduate colleges could offer scholarships to those students who work tirelessly to finish their schooling the fastest while still attaining the necessary requirements to graduate. Cycling students at faster rates could save students money, but it could also lead to higher revenue with maximum class sizes every year.

So what will happen if our young men and women enter into the workforce without graduate or professional degrees?

The individual effect is sure to be problematic. Undergraduate degrees can only sustain many students’ professional lives momentarily. They may enter the workforce unprepared and lacking the skills necessary to move up, stagnating their careers. Because of that lack of education, they could soon find themselves behind a class of individuals who were able to complete postgraduate work.

And for many, stymied careers negatively affect both personal happiness and income potential.
In the absence of positive changes, universities will be negatively affected as well. As accessibility plummets, state institutions will lose cultural and economic diversity. Exceptional students with low-income backgrounds will be stalled in their pursuit of education, thus reducing the overall quality of the student body. Student loans can offset the economic imbalance, but that leaves students at the mercy of creditors and with years of suffocating debt.

Academically and socially speaking, it is in the best interest of graduate programs at the UI and across the country to open their pocketbooks to the gifted, but economically disenfranchised, population. We are not suggesting that colleges let everyone in; only that they ensure that those who can benefit from — and academically qualify for — further quality education will.

Commerce and business has become a global marketplace, and those without the academic clout of a master’s or Ph.D. will be abandoned. We shouldn’t accept the commodification of educational opportunities. But unless drastic changes are implemented, there may not be an alternative for graduate education.

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