Tuition costs have killed the American dream

Higher tuition rates widen the education achievement gap.

Lauren Vander Tuig, Staff Writer

America’s defining selling point is the American dream—defined as “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful.”

This ethos of America makes the country out to be an optimistic land of opportunity. Despite this well-known philosophy, the dream is dying with steadily increasing tuition costs for higher education.

In today’s society, college degrees are an essential ticket to success. This idea can be true when it comes to establishing a professional career. However, with rising tuition rates, graduates begin their lives in thousands of dollars worth of debt, which can burden them for decades to come.


While the American dream may have been achievable when higher education was affordable, modern tuition rates ensure that the majority of the population never make the dream a reality. 

In 1963, tuition at a four-year public college cost $1,286 per year, which amounts to $10,555 with added inflation. This means that college costs have grown by 140.6%. 

Education serves as an equalizer, placing people of all backgrounds on a fair playing field toward success no matter their socioeconomic status. However, higher education tuition rates prevent this equalization from ever coming into fruition.


The achievement gap is “the disparity in educational attainment between different groups.” This achievement gap includes income disparity. With the current price of tuition in mind, only the financially privileged have access to higher education.

According to a 2017 Harvard Business School study, employers expressed that applicants with a college degree are more “job-ready” than applicants without a degree. 

Degrees are not the sole determining factors of education or success, but the Harvard study highlights how valuable a degree is in pursuit of a professional career. This reality automatically puts low-income students at an immense disadvantage for professional success, since they cannot always afford to get a degree.  

Statistics show that “89% of low-income first-generation students drop out, which is four times higher than second-generation students.” This percentage shows the financial pressure low-income students face in the pursuit of higher education.    

“We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. 


In order to attend higher education institutions low-income students often have to take out student loans to aid with the financial burden. However, this support toward financing an education becomes a lasting strain that impacts post-graduation life drastically. 

Despite many different payment plan options, it is projected that the impact of student debt will lead to graduates retiring around the age of 72

Eleven percent of graduates even believe that they will not have the opportunity to retire due to the impact of student debt.

With sky-rocketing tuition prices and life-long lasting debt, the American dream seems more and more unreachable in today’s economic climate.

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