Education Is Too Expensive, but Students Still Find the Value

Student with bowtie smiling and gazing out window
Cengage Unlimited
Reading Time: 4 minutes

According to the Digital Learning Pulse Survey (DLPS) conducted in the fall of 2022, a significant majority of students, faculty, and academic administrators believe that the cost of education is becoming increasingly unaffordable for most students.

What survey respondents said:

“Cost of education is becoming increasingly ridiculous. A person should not have to mortgage their lives to get a community college education.”

“The cost of education is becoming too high.”

“It was very expensive for me, and I had to take out lots of loans.”

“Tuition costs are quickly becoming more and more ridiculous, while financial aid isn’t increasing.”

Cost of education is a concern for all

Responses from 2,358 Fall 2022 students displayed considerable agreement that the cost of education will soon be out of reach for most students. This opinion was held a bit more strongly among students at four-year institutions, but nearly 80% of two-year students also agreed. Some students (10% of four-year and 16% of two-year) were neutral. Very few students thought that the cost of an education was not an issue, with less than 6% expressing any disagreement that education was becoming financially out of reach.

Chart showing rising cost of education

It is not just students that hold this opinion. Faculty and administrators may not be directly paying the tuition bills, but they also find costs for students are a real issue. Among faculty, 90% of those at four-year institutions and 77% at two-year institutions also agreed. The belief that education is becoming financially out of reach is equal to that of students, with 80% of administrators at four-year and two-year institutions agreeing.

Inflation is an even greater concern

“Inflation made tuition higher this fall.” ―DLPS survey respondent

“Trying to pay for school and the cost of living is beyond stressful and feels unachievable to the point that I feel like I don’t want to be in school.”
―DLPS survey respondent

The cost of education is just one item that students must include in their budget. Food, housing, and general living expenses need to be accounted for as well. Increases in the costs of non-education expenses mean that less money is available to pay for an education.

To judge the impact of overall rising costs, faculty, administrators, and students were asked if they thought inflation and the rising cost of living would pose a problem for students. Students strongly agreed that this was the case, with 83% of four-year students and 87% of two-year students saying that they agreed that the rising cost of living would pose a problem for them. Faculty and administrators are even stronger in their belief that inflation will pose a problem for students, with over 90% stating that they agree that this will be a problem for their students.

Chart showing the rising cost of living

The silver lining

“I think it was good overall for the cost.”
―DLPS survey respondent

“Overall, I feel like it is worth every penny, but I do feel like more services could be offered such as more housing support or peer mentorship.”
―DLPS survey respondent

While costs are a genuine concern for students, there is also considerable positive news from the Digital Learning Pulse Survey on how well students think their education is working for them. For example, students were asked to provide a letter grade of A through F on if their education was worth what they were paying. Students at two-year institutions gave the highest grades, with a full 47% saying they would grade the worth as an “A.” Students at four-year institutions were slightly less generous in their grading, but were satisfied they were getting their money’s worth. Very few students (8% of two-year and 11% of four-year) gave a failing grade.

Chart showing percentage of students who feel education is worth the cost

Respondents speak highly:

“My educational experience has been pretty positive.”

“They have all been great so far in meeting my needs.”

“My education experience has been great, the only thing that poses an issue is the financial aspect of affording college.”

“Overall, my experience in higher education has been positive. I’m excited to continue my journey.”

One reason students may be giving such high grades on the financial worth of their courses is that they overwhelmingly believe their courses are meeting their educational needs. Between 80% and 90% of all students gave an “A” or “B” grade for how well their courses are meeting their educational needs in both Spring 2022 and Fall 2022. Students at four-year institutions give slightly higher grades than two-year students, but both groups report high satisfaction levels. Only 5% of two-year and 2% of four-year students give a failing grade for how well their courses serve their needs.

Chart showing percentage of students who feel courses meet educational needs

Digital Learning Pulse Survey

The Digital Learning Pulse Survey is an ongoing research project to understand how the pandemic is changing higher education. Bay View Analytics conducted the project in partnership with Cengage, the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the Higher Education Research & Development Institute (HERDI), and College Pulse. The most recent data for this ongoing project was collected in September 2022, with responses from 1,206 faculty and administrators, and 2,358 students, representing 1,252 institutions from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Want to know more about how students, faculty and administrators are feeling? Get the full results of this ongoing research over the last few years.