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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Thursday, September 28, 2023
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The distorted reality of higher education costs and expenses

Picture this: you are bundled up in your warmest winter coat, trudging your way to class in the heaviest part of an infamous Wisconsin snowstorm. Thick snowflakes thunder down on you as you carefully maneuver around the slippery slush that covers the crosswalks of University Avenue. Your hands are shoved deep into the warmth of your coat pockets, and you can feel the sweat start to build up on the small of your back - even as the bitter air turns your cheeks and nose a deep red. A single thought crosses your mind: why did I decide to come to school here?

Besides the brutal cold, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers an exemplary amount of reputable attributes. It often slips our mind, truly, how lucky each of us are to be attending UW-Madison. As stated in a 2021 nationwide ranking list by U.S. News & World Report, UW-Madison ranks as the 13th best public institution and 42nd overall in the nation. The extensive list of reputable qualities for UW-Madison spans to academics, athletics and more.

Yet, everything that accounts for UW-Madison and its successes does not come free. The hefty price tag for undergraduate and graduate students yields hushed conversations. According to the university’s website, the estimated cost of attendance for the 2020 to 2021 academic year was listed as $27,228.00 for Wisconsin residents, $55,640.00 for non-residents/international students and $31,840.00 for Minnesota residents. Comparison prices to other universities in the Wisconsin system show a stark difference. The University of Wisconsin-Platteville sits at only $7,873.08 for an academic year for Wisconsin residents and $16,148.04 for non-residents. A UW system chart from UW Help lists all 26 UW colleges in Wisconsin and their respective tuition rates, and UW-Madison sits at the most expensive — for Wisconsin residents, non-residents, internationals and Minnesota residents.

The hefty cost that comes with attending UW-Madison showcases a direct connection to the university’s “prestigious” title. With a long list of esteemed achievements and accomplishments, UW-Madison continues to push its price tag through its name. With such staggering numbers for estimated tuition and costs, it would come at no surprise to learn that students consider these numbers to be expensive. However, this is simply not the case.

In an article on, contributor Preston Cooper explains that the underlying costs at American colleges are the highest of any large country in the developed world. The reasoning for the inflation of tuition can be linked back to administrative bloat, overbuilding of campus amenities, a model dependent on high-wage labor and the easy availability of subsidized student loans. Spending thousands of dollars each year on higher education has become a “norm” in America, and students’ mindsets about the definition of wealth itself have become distorted because of it. 

The United States holds itself at a $7.25 hourly minimum wage average, which is around average for the rest of the world despite it being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. India rests at the bottom of the hourly minimum wage list, with workers only earning a startling $0.28 minimum wage. Because of the United States’ wealth standing in the world, dropping a few thousand dollars on college tuition seems to be a meaningless act. Yet, when compared to the rest of the world, the astonishing numbers of higher education in the United States speak for themselves.

Students at UW-Madison represent only a small demographic of a larger, standardized wealth problem. As we sit in lecture halls and walk the streets of campus, we often fail to consider the underlying truth to our American collegiate financial situation. A silent recognition must be paid to those without equal opportunities to higher education. So, the next time you trudge your way through a Wisconsin snowstorm, remind yourself one more time why you are a Badger.

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