College costs have been an ongoing topic for discussions within the past decades. Overall, in contemporary US society, the value of education for human happiness has been elevated due to the perceived importance of college in an individual’s accomplishment in life. Such close attention to education and its rising costs trigger scholars’ interest in the connections between happiness and challenges imposed by the experience of obtaining a degree. Happiness is an ambiguous and fluid phenomenon that might be attributed to feelings of security, dignity, well-being, and accomplishment. Since many of these elements depend on income, employment, and education, it is only natural to explore happiness in the context of college costs. Since education is a process that implies several stages, the present essay will primarily investigate how rising costs of college tuition influence students at different stages of this process. Therefore, it is essential to explore the negative and positive effects to identify how increasing costs of college education influence the level of happiness in students before, during, and after their years in college.
College Tuition Cost Increase’s Effects on Students’ Happiness
The level of happiness is particularly predetermined by the ability of a person to satisfy their needs. These needs might range from basic ones, such as food and shelter, to more advanced ones, including safety, creativity, self-exploration, and reaching one’s potential. In a contemporary society driven by monetary means, one can hardly find a way to attain happiness without money. This consideration is important in the context of education costs discussion because an individual’s educational degree directly impacts their employment and income. Thus, it is important to consider money as an immediate attribute of happiness of a contemporary person.
Responding to a history-long question of whether money can buy happiness, Sunstein states that yes, money can buy happiness. In particular, when investing money into experiences and not commodities, the chances of being happy in the outcome are very high. The scholar refers to research findings and states that “experiences can have a much bigger impact on people’s happiness than things” (Sunstein par. 3). Thus, it seems obvious that for one to become happy, they should invest their money into experiences, such as education, which presumably validates the high costs of college.
However, under the circumstances of limited resources, one’s opportunities to become happy as an outcome of paying for education become less optimistic. Indeed, investing financial assets into education is an informed and worthwhile decision. Dixon states that choosing a college is similar to choosing a shampoo, the overall immediate effect of which is common, but the choice of a particular one might have long-term outcomes. When paying a decent amount of money for a costly experience in degree obtainment, one counts on the payback in the form of stable employment and reliable income.
However, the happiness of investing money into education is not the same as investing money that one does not have. According to research, the majority of US students do not have enough money to enter a college because college education is very expensive, and the prices continue growing (Dixon; Loop; Sloan). In particular, Dixon emphasizes that the rise in education costs is rapid and significant. The researcher states that “the base cost of undergraduate tuition at Baylor, $30,586 for the 2012-2013 school year, has risen $1,866 from the previous year” (Dixon par. 7). Such a cost growth pace indicates that by the time one enters college, the costs rise, and they might experience a significant financial burden of their choice to pursue a college education.
In such a manner, students or their parents are forced to loan money for college, which is commonly known as student debt or student loan. The demographics of the contemporary student body indicate that the majority of applicants today are the representatives of first-generation students (Gendron). Indeed, research shows that “many Black and Hispanic students are becoming the first in their families to attend college (Gendron par. 20). Since the majority of such individuals come from underprivileged communities, their need for student loans and government student support is noticeable. Even if such students manage to obtain scholarships, they still lack money to provide for their basic living needs (Gendron). Thus, for some students and their families, graduating without debt is the highest degree of happiness in the background of the given circumstances. However, this level of happiness cannot be indicative of lifelong achievement since education for the sake of education cannot be judged as a valuable goal.
Nonetheless, there is an opinion that justifies student loans despite the financial risks due to the long-term positive effects of higher educational degrees on employment and income later in life. As claimed by Loop, who refers to the National Center for Education Statistics, “graduates ages 25 through 34 with a bachelor’s degree had an average yearly salary of $44,970, while those with a master’s earned $59,230” (par. 2). This justification might have been a strong and compelling one if the author had not provided an implication for rebuttal. Indeed, Loop further explores the issues behind returning on the investment into college education using student loans. It becomes evident that only particular careers and a narrow spectrum of specialists might be able to pay back their loans by means of their degree application at work (Loop). Indeed, with the statistics that indicate rapidly falling rates of graduates, the idea of paying back one’s loan after obtaining a Master’s degree does not seem realistic (Sloan). Thus, given the combined overlook on the statistics and evidence, there is a low probability level that the majority of students will be able to return their loans.
Apart from the immediate negative effects on financial stability due to substantial student loans, people are exposed to other indirect adverse outcomes of the rising costs for education. In particular, many researchers refer to the issue of college dropout due to the inability to pay for the loans (Dixon; Gendron; Sloan). Another significant adverse outcome of rising college costs that prevent students from happiness is their experience of food insecurity. As Gendron notes, college loans force students to cut their expenses on their basic needs, including food, exposing them to an insecure position. In such a manner, an effort to survive through college, although it might sound too strong, is a threat to one’s long-term health, security, and happiness.
When referring to the different stages of education, namely before entering college, during the educational period, and after college completion, one might state that the level of students’ happiness particularly depends on college costs. Students might be happy about the college experience before they enter because they believe that they will have an opportunity to succeed in repaying their loans. They consider combining part-time education with a part-time job to cover the expenses, as well as apply for scholarships to reduce the financial burden of their education (Dixon; Sloan). However, during their educational experience, the level of happiness decreases significantly, at least in the majority of students who do not manage to execute their plans.
As for the happiness after graduation, one might expect that all the risks and atrocities are worthwhile for the ultimate cause, which is better employment and life opportunity later in life. Considering the literature findings, this assertion might be true only for those students who were not subject to loans in the first place or those who managed to cope with it during the year in college. However, this population does not constitute the majority of US college students, which implies that the rising costs of college education lead to unfavorable and unhappy consequences in the long run. For example, research shows that students who had to pay student loans after graduation were less likely to marry shortly after college. Indeed, according to Sloan, “the high cost of college has played a large part in young couples waiting longer to get married” (par. 7). Since marriage implies financial stability, couples delay their decision to create families until they obtain their secure position financially.
Consequently, a delay in starting a family and having children is likely to lead to delays in the next generations’ education. The financial burden of repaying the debt after graduation might leave a significant stigma on the family and the parents of future generations. Indeed, as Sloan states, “if they find themselves with loads of student debt, the idea of saving money for their own child’s education can again, seem impossible” (par. 20). Similarly, graduates experiencing the risks associated with student loans are exposed to inability to buy a home, which deprives them of satisfying the need of security, which is essential for happiness. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that rising costs for college tuition can have a positive effect on students’ short- or long-term happiness.
In summation, the discussion of happiness in the context of obtaining education in times of high costs of college tuition is particularly relevant due to the growing rates of student loans in the USA. Researchers’ attention has been drawn to the articulation of happiness as an outcome of investing money. It has been found that although paying for experiences significantly increases the level of happiness in people, the lack of financial means to invest deprives people of being genuinely happy and satisfied with life. High costs of college education force the majority of students to loan money with a chance to return their investment in the long-term perspective after obtaining stable jobs and income. However, in reality, students engaging in loans suffer from food insecurity, lack of means to provide for their daily needs, and seek sources of income while they study. As an outcome, the probability of dropping out increases due to engaging in part-time jobs and missing classes. Moreover, students who pay the loans after graduation postpone marrying, buying a home, and having children, which has an adverse effect on their happiness.
Dixon, Taylor. “Rising Tuition Prices Affecting Students’ College Choices.” Baylor Lariat, 2013, Web.
Gendron, Jared. “Many Students Lack Access to Food, Despite Efforts by MU, Other Universities.” Columbia Missourian, 2021, Web.
Loop, Erica. “Is Pursuing Your Master’s Degree Worth the Extra Student Loan Debt?” Classroom, 2017. Web.
Sloan, Kayla. “6 Negative Effects of High Tuition Costs.” Everything Finance, 2021, Web.
Sunstein, Cass R. “Yes, Money Can Make You Happy.” The New Republic, 2013, Web.