Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

Here’s some debt with your degree: College is too damn expensive

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | March 14, 2024



The Editorial Board argues that the University should make efforts to reduce the cost of required academic resources for all students. 

As Hopkins students, we know all too well how expensive college can be, from tuition to dining plans and everything in between. However, higher education has not always been so costly. 

In the last 40 years, the average cost of college tuition has increased by 168%, while wages only increased by 19%. The lack of comparable increases in wages has made paying tuition challenging, leading millions of students to take on loans to afford their education. More than half of all students graduating from college have student loans, and the average federal student loan debt is estimated to be a whopping $28,950

Hopkins is not insulated from the trend of rising college tuition and student debt. In the past decade, the cost of attendance at Hopkins, including tuition and living costs, has increased 10% more than the average increase at other U.S. colleges. Although the University states that it is committed to making every attempt possible to prevent students from taking on loans, many still graduate with substantial debt. The average debt among Hopkins undergraduates who have federal loans is $12,750. For the 6% of graduating seniors who borrow from private lenders, the average loan is an astounding $52,734. 

Affording Hopkins tuition is clearly a major financial hurdle for many students, yet the University expects students to shell out even more money to pay for additional academic resources. In the tuition breakdown for the 2023-2024 academic year, Hopkins estimated that undergraduate students will pay $1,345 for “books, course materials, supplies and equipment,” in addition to the cost of tuition. These resources include mandatory educational softwares, such as Achieve, Chem21Labs and ActivelyLearn. Students must also pay for textbooks for their courses, which are often extremely expensive. Even printing requires you to top off your J-Card (with the exception of Computer Science majors). 

These purchases add up. The average undergraduate student spends $339-600 per academic year on books and supplies. Many students cannot afford to purchase every resource required: A report by the Public Interest Research Group found that two-thirds of surveyed students had foregone purchasing the required course materials because they could not financially afford them. 

Although Hopkins provides an approximation for books and supplies, for most students, the cost is unpredictable and unexpected. Often, professors do not post their syllabi before class registration, making it difficult for students to plan what resources to buy and how much to budget. Some courses are requirements for majors or pre-professional tracks — if you want a degree or a grad school acceptance, you have to fork over the money for the required materials.

Many academic resources that students have to purchase for a course are non-negotiables. For example, homework assigned from paid platforms like Achieve for Physics and Zybooks for programming courses form part of a student’s grade. Failure to financially purchase these resources directly affects students' GPA, negatively impacting those who simply cannot afford it. 

The University has an obligation to provide students with any required academic resources — be it educational software or a textbook. Tuition is, by definition, the price that we pay to take classes, and it is unacceptable for us to pay extra for the materials we need to be successful. Students shouldn’t have to drop a course after checking their bank balance. In order for Hopkins to live up to its promise of fostering an environment of learning and curiosity, all classes should be equally accessible to all students, regardless of their financial situation.  

Starting this spring, iClicker is provided free of charge, due to the Student Government Association’s (SGA) Academic Resources initiative. Participation through iClicker is often part of grades in large lecture courses, and The News-Letter is grateful for this effort by SGA to reduce the financial burden on students. 

Yet, SGA’s successes cannot make up for the lack of action by the University. Whether through providing students with a stipend for purchasing required academic resources, or reimbursement, the administration must prioritize addressing the rising costs for students. When it came to legacy admissions, Hopkins was one of the first top universities to abandon the practice. To make a Hopkins education more accessible to all students, the University must take the next step of eliminating the cost of required academic materials.

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