The Price We Pay: Higher Education and Opportunity

Here we are. We are in the midst of the holiday season awaiting the prospect to start afresh in the coming new year. Isn’t that always the case? Aren’t we all just looking for a fresh start or at least a ‘better’ start? No matter how perfect our lives may or may not seem, we are always looking for some way to reach deeper into the unknown realm of possibility that we call opportunity.

As a current undergraduate, I am experiencing higher education in its rawest form: blissful mal-encapsulation of the real world, dissatisfying corruption, and the unfortunate and indebting consequences. These consequences surmount to possible student mental illness, extensive student loans and extensive debt. Additionally, many undergraduates experience a lack of ‘meaning’ while in school. You may be asking yourself, “What version of hell did I sign up for?”


My answer is the same version of hell that all undergraduates sign up for: opportunity.

Recently, I spent some time thinking about all that higher education has offered me thus far, and I find myself almost ashamed to admit I feel upset about what I might take for granted. I am not here to say that higher education is a waste of time. Instead, I am here to state that the version of higher education we have conformed to is far from its purest sensibilities.

As of 2016, $1.3 trillion of student debt can be attributed to roughly 44 million borrowers. The average class of 2016 graduates will have about $37,172 worth of debt by the time they walk across that stage, diploma in hand.

As a student, you may also be asking, where exactly does my money go? The link below shares a snippet of where colleges spend the money:

Where Do Colleges Spend All That Money?

No matter what institution of higher education you attend, there are always three basic core values being preached: innovation, opportunity, and success.

As bright-eyed mere teenagers walking through those school tours, little do we realize the realities that come with paying for an education that is considered collegiate.

No matter what school you attend, no matter its prestige, and no matter how much you ‘love-it,’ the bottom line is that your existence on that campus depends upon your ability and the ability of those around you to pay tuition each semester. The bill gets emailed to you or your parents’ inbox demanding they pay-up in order to, for example, keep the campus landscaping bill in check.

Why this pursuit of higher education? What are the benefits that we have heard regarding higher education, and why are these benefits never enough?


These benefits surely cannot outweigh the costs because we, as students, are taught to regard an undergraduate career as simply a stepping stone to our graduate and professional school careers that, in our day and age, have become the levels of higher education necessary to provide the penultimate benefit for adults entering the workforce.

We are promised that an undergraduate liberal arts education can make us well-rounded employees for an ever-changing workplace, but entering the workplace with just an undergraduate degree is no match for the graduate applicants that can stand in your direct way for a career.

The bottom line is that we, as students, can never understand the real value of higher education because our degrees have yet to reap us any tangible benefit other than maybe pity from our family and friends for the stress of paying the tuition bill. It would be foolish for me to say that we can live without a college education, but it is just as foolish for me to say that the college system makes sense the way it is.


In this season of thanks and gratitude, we have to remember that the reality we live in may seem enduring, but we have to question the reality of higher education in America. We might be content with ‘just being content’ but we have to use our own dissatisfaction, and impending debt, as a catalyst to change what we may otherwise accept as our reality. What changes do you think can invoke a re-balance of the dogma that higher education has fallen into?

Photo Credits: One, Two, Three, Four