Its been about thirty years since our federal and state governments started reducing direct support for higher education and started steering students toward student loans. Now students commonly leave college with the equivalent of a mortgage payment, a debt many of them can never repay or escape.
Private colleges, and specifically, church-related Christian colleges have bought into the same student-debt funded tuition scheme.
When I entered one such college in another millenium, I never heard of FAFSA. Typically I would start the fall semester with enough money to pay my tuition, then in January, I might take out a short-term loan from the college, which I was able to repay over the summer and start the cycle again. I was able to get through more years of graduate study than is profitable in the same way.
Back in those days we were reminded that our tuition was only a token, it only paid a small percentage of the cost of our education. We were reminded that little old ladies on Social Security and hard working farmers contributed to our institution from their meager savings. And that was true.
But somewhere in the last few years administrators of Christian colleges found it was easier to raise tuition than to raise support for their students.
Their peers headed for law school or business school might look forward to a lucrative job that would make repayment of their student loans easy. Most of our students were headed to for far more modest (to put it mildly) salaries, and will be saddled with debt.
Hearing the tragic news about Kayla Mueller this week, I thought about some of my own former students who majored in intercultural studies and are serving people and God overseas, as she did. These were some of our brightest and most dedicated students. But many of them have to devote several years to paying off their student loans before than can go and serve in other lands among other cultures.
There will be another economic downturn, and tuition will become unsustainable. Meanwhile, students are customers paying for a service and are entitled to have it their way.