Devin Cherry & Malcolm Palmer

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Many students are struggling with rising tuition costs and inflation, as the economy has slowed and the rate of inflation has hit its highest level in four decades, causing consumers to pay higher prices for things like gas, food and rent.

For example, the average annual cost of tuition, fees and room and board for an undergraduate degree has increased by 169% from 1980 to 2020, according to a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

At Winthrop University, while tuition didn’t increase for the 2022-23 school year, in-state students are paying $575 more per semester than they were in the fall of 2015. Out-of-state students are paying more than $1,100 more per semester over the same time period. That’s an 8.1% increase over the last seven years.

“College is already hard enough and with the rise in tuition and the rising inflation right now, it’s like another thing added on to college that makes it harder,” said Patrick Myers, a Winthrop senior.

He said the high rate of tuition inflation has many students asking if the cost is worth it?

“Sometimes it gets to a point where it’s like I’m choosing either finances or academics and I feel like it shouldn’t be that way. I feel like we all should have the opportunity to focus on academics,” Myers said.

Jordon Shaw, a Winthrop senior, said he’s explored ways to try to lower his tuition costs.

“One of the main things I had to talk to my parents about was looking at other options off campus, which is like a technical college to do some of my courses,” Shaw said.

Juan Licon, who was a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said tuition inflation has forced him postpone his studies.

“Tuition prices are just so high for us. I know personally for myself that I can’t go to school at this very moment and I’m having to work like two full-time jobs just to pay to go back to school,” Licon said.

Licon isn’t alone, as college enrollment has declined by nearly 1 million students since early 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to fall 2021 data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

“Rising tuition costs are causing students to consider not going to college and those who are already in college have to think either to drop out or take out more loans, which at the end will cause more student debt,” said Rolando Dorbecker, a senior at UNC Charlotte.

Former student Danny Couick, who studied at Randolph College in Virginia, said he thinks tuition inflation has a greater impact on students struggling with other finical issues.

“I also think that tuition prices increasing each year also disproportionately affects people of color and especially people in areas that are already naturally more poor, because of other circumstances,” Couick said.

For some, there is a bit of a disconnect between colleges and students when it comes to communicating the reasons behind tuition increases, as it pertains to budgeting and the allocation of funds.

Miguel Caldwell, president of the Council of Student Leaders (CSL) at Winthrop, said he often works with students to address their concerns.

“I’ve seen lots of students come to us with different concerns about (tuition and funding). We’ve tried to work through different ways to address it but, overall, I think that students are displeased, confused and just want answers,” Caldwell said. “Not just why they’re paying what they’re paying, but where the money that they’re giving to the university, where that’s going.”

Winthrop’s CSL hosts a town hall meeting every semester to give students the chance to voice their concerns and ask questions.

“I think if it was made more clear and we were able to see it more tangibly, then we will understand better where our dollars are going and as a result we wouldn’t be so concerned about fees and tuition,” Caldwell said.