The exasperation over rising tuition debt was evident in the comments from students featured in last Sunday’s front page story on the costs of higher education in Tennessee. One student told Assistant News Editor Rex Barber she will be paying off school loans totalling more than $30,000 when she graduates from East Tennessee State University.
She is not alone. Student loan debt at ETSU exceeded $60 million for 2010-11. The rising costs of a college education have many students voicing sentiments similar to those expressed by Patrick Franklin, an ETSU senior majoring in public health.
“I personally think education should be free in this country,” Franklin said. “It sucks that it’s not.”
Tennessee does not promise to provide a free college education to state residents. Unfortunately, with the costs to attend public colleges and universities climbing annually, it can’t even promise to offer an affordable college education. Higher education in Tennessee continues to see deep funding cuts. As a result, college tuition costs continue to rise.
The costs to attend a state college or university in Tennessee have more than doubled in the last 10 years. Tuition increases (and hefty increases in student activity fees) have been needed to make up for a decline in state tax dollars going to higher education.
As we’ve said in this space before, Tennessee has reached a tipping point when it comes to affordable higher education. Additional tuition hikes threaten to price higher education out of the reach of too many students in Tennessee, particularly non-traditional students (who represent a growing demographic at ETSU).
And students can no longer automatically depend on the Tennessee HOPE Lottery Scholarship to pay for their entire college tuition.