Texas Tribune Festival: ‘Price vs. Cost vs. Value’

Katerina Wynette Barton

The panel on the value of higher education was what anyone could have expected: unproductive.

In the segment entitled, “Price vs. Cost vs. Value,” several university presidents, including President of the University of Texas at Austin Gregory Fenves and U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson discussed the affordability of higher education.

Not only were the panelists not diverse, but the discussion was irrelevant.

Panelists nodded their heads and agreed that the education their universities offer are well worth the tuition money.

Fenves noted that much of the tuition goes to hiring the best faculty and staff for their students. The other university presidents agreed with Fenves.

Fenves also noted that tuition has only increased with inflation; however, tuition has increased at a higher percentage than the inflation rate in the past five years, according to College Board data.

What was not addressed in the panel was a bigger question: whether we, as a country, value education.

It can be argued that we in fact don’t value education as compared to the rest of the world. Many countries in other parts of the world offer free or subsidized education. Education should be a building block for society, not a burden.

College in Germany and the Scandinavian states are free, besides living costs. In fact, in 2013 German students initiated a huge grassroots protest when the government said they would instill fees.

The panelists argued that the Obama Administration’s plan to make all community college education free was an impractical and impossible idea.

Even the topic of student debt was ignored.

In the past 10 years student loans have increased 77 percent and the average outstanding balance is $24,000, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As of April 2015, the aggregate U.S. student debt is at $1.2 trillion.

Higher education is becoming increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible. It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the session that Johnson said her constituents in lower income families are unable to afford college on their own anymore.

University attendance may be increasing but that is only because a college education is almost a requirement for the modern day job market. Rather than claiming that tuition has risen with inflation (which has already been proven to be false), universities should just tell the truth: based on the typical supply and demand model, they raise tuition because they can.