High school senior Ronald Nelson had a pretty enviable decision to make during college admission season this year.
The star student of Houston High School in Memphis, Tennessee, scored entry into all eight of America's prestigious Ivy League schools. Nelson was certainly qualified, graduating with a 4.58 weighted GPA, a 2260 out of 2400 SAT score and 15 AP classes. He was also a national merit scholar and president of his high school class, Business Insider reports, along with being a state-recognized alto saxophone player.
Nelson, however, decided to forgo the big-name schools in favor of the University of Alabama. The reason, he said, came down to cost. While the big-name schools all offered Nelson some form of aid, none of it was remotely close to what he needed to get through all four years without taking loans. Alabama, in contrast, offered Nelson a full ride to the school as well as entry into the university's prestigious honors programs.
"With people being in debt for years and years, it wasn't a burden that Ronald wanted to take on and it wasn't a burden that we wanted to deal with for a number of years after undergraduate," Nelson's father, Ronald Sr., told Business Insider. Instead, the family is eager to save resources for the even more crippling costs of medical school, which Ronald plans to attend down the road.
Loans. Stories like Nelson's are becoming more common as America's most prestigious schools continue to grow financially out of reach for more and more students. Over the last 40 years, college expenses have been rising at a breathtaking pace. Since 1978, college costs have skyrocketed more than 1,100%. Today, the ten most expensive colleges in the United States all cost more than $60,000 a year. Predictably too, student loan debt has been growing in America every year since at least 1992, reaching more than $35,000 per average borrower in 2014.
The ballooning costs add further weight to questions about the relative value of attending other prestigious academic institutions. In a host of other metrics measured by the data company PayScale, less well-known colleges like the Oregon Institute of Technology and Brigham Young University performed better than Harvard and Yale in their return on investment to students.
It seems increasingly clear something is going to have to change in the way Americans go to college. While Nelson will certainly be fine, eminently qualified students like him shouldn't be forced into backbreaking loans. For America to retain its preeminent place in the world, its young people can't start off their professional lives mired in debt.