A college education is arguably the most important tool an individual must possess in order to be prepared in the real world. Universities and colleges provide the knowledge and skills that the students must learn and acquire to advance in the next chapters of their lives. Aside from academic proficiency, higher education exposes the students into various situation, good and bad, to train them in the possible scenarios when they start to pursue their own professional career path. The majority of the countries around the world consider student participation in tertiary education as an essential educational feat, which shows an educated growing population. In fact, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 26, Paragraph 1 that “Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”. However, there has been an alarming tuition fee increase in the history of the academe. Over the last two decades, several countries have transferred the higher education cost from the state to the student, postulating that higher education is a private good, which benefits individuals, therefore, they should pay, rather than a public good, which benefits societies and economies. This is due to the growing pressures on public budgets and the ideology of conservative economists and politicians, not to mention poor economic conditions and emerging budget cuts. This situation spurred several debates regarding the impact of high tuition fees for higher education on students. The continuous increase of tuition fees in colleges and universities over the past years tremendously affects students’ holistic behavior, including the physical, financial, social, and psychological issues, specifically to the following aspects – student mobility, mental health, and never-ending student debt problems.
The drastic increase in tuition fees in higher education brings numerous negative impacts mostly in the number of enrollees every year. The study of Bahrs and Siedler in 2018 focuses on the analysis of the impact of higher education tuition fees on Germany’s adolescents’ educational intentions. The results show that there is a significant decrease in the likelihood of German adolescents to obtain a higher educational degree. The relatively low fees of 1,000 euros per academic year directly affect young people’s intention towards educational achievement especially adolescents belonging to low-income families. This study is consistent with the results of the research published in 2012 by Hübner, wherein information from 2002-2008 high school graduates in sixteen German states was analyzed. The results show a negative effect of tuition fees on enrollment behavior in colleges and universities, which produces 4.7 percentage points in an annual increase of 1,000 euros. Furthermore, the results exhibit an eight percent decrease in the intention to acquire higher education, while individuals from the poorest 10 percent of income households show a 33 percent drop. Another study conducted by Helmet and Marcotte shows that an increase of $100 in tuition fees in the U.S. public colleges and universities would result in a 0.25 percent decline which largely affects research-intensive universities. Wilkins et al. argue that because of the government’s inability to generate enough funds through taxation, the only viable solution is an increase in tuition fees, which results in their proposition that higher tuition fees become one of the key influencers in a student’s determination in higher education. These results strongly suggest that an increase in tuition fees is inversely proportional to the enrolees in several universities globally.
There has been a disconcerting increase in anxiety, depression, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts among students in universities and college campuses, not only in North America but in other parts of the world. A study led by Flatt focuses on the contributing factors to the mental health crisis in North American higher education. Flatt states that one of the six contributing factors is the financial burden being faced by the students. Tuition fees are increasing faster than the inflation rate. In 2012, the average increase in tuition fees are 5 percent, while the inflation rate is 1.3 percent. Although there are no signs of students from stopping or dropping their higher education, they are dealing with the pressure on how to produce money to be able to pay for the next semester’s tuition fee. The study shows that there is a positive correlation between the increase in tuition fees and the amount of financial stress in the students, and by extension, their families . The financial stress brought by the increase in higher education tuition fees may possibly trigger mental health problems. In the UK, it is reported that there’s an alarming increase in suicide from 128 in 2013 to 166 in 2014, the highest in at least 10 years. Pinkney suggests that these cases may reflect the rising student fees and graduate underemployment. Cooke et al.
Conducted a study focusing on the relationship between student debt and student mental health. Using the General Population version of the Clinical Outcomes in Routine Evaluation, the mental health of students from three universities in the UK was measured. The researchers state that debt and financial concerns add to the pressure projected to the students in their university life, and they have become more concerned with financial problems as they progress through the years. However, they found out that there is varying perception towards student debt, from students with high financial concerns, low financial concerns to no debt concerns. Students with high financial concerns experience more nervousness and anxiety, difficulty in sleeping, and more concern on other people’s judgments. In addition, the study also suggests that students’ debt tolerance was affected by the increase in university costs. However, one study conducted by Richardson et al. suggests that the increase in tuition fees partially affects the undergraduates’ mental health and states that the current tuition fee increases do not appear to have a long-lasting impact at present in the UK.