The surprising state of U.S. colleges in 2015

Obama Pushes Plan For Free Community College Access
Obama Pushes Plan For Free Community College Access


A lot happened on college campuses in 2015. While balancing academics and social life, students were forced to combat inequality on campuses and deal with economic issues that will impact their futures. The college experience for the class of 2015 has transformed drastically from what their parents dealt with, or even what elder millennials encountered just a few years ago, and 2015 was a crucial year in this transformative time.

FAST FACTS:

  • In 2015, Princeton University took the top spot in the U.S News and World Report college rankings.

  • An estimated 20.2 million students enrolled in American colleges and universities in the fall of 2015 -- an increase of about 4.9 million since fall of 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

  • 11.5 million females will attend in fall 2015, compared to 8.7 million males, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

  • According to College Board, the average cost for tuition, fees, room and board at a private non-Profit four-year university for the 2015-2016 school year is $43,921; the average cost at a public four-year in state university is $19,548.

Here's a look at some of the most critical issues affecting college students in 2015:

Debt
The class of 2015 is officially the most indebted class in history, according to an analysis by Mark Kantrowitz, senior vice president and publisher of Edvisors who shared his findings with Mic. Nearly 71% of the class of 2015 borrowed money to obtain a degree and on average a student in the class of 2015 who borrowed money to obtain a bachelors degree will graduate $35,000 in debt. This figure is $2,000 more than the previous year and according to data, the upward trend isn't going to stop anytime soon. In total, the class of 2015 will graduate owing about $56 billion in public and private loans -- a fivefold increase since the 1990s.

Students across the country protested students loans in 2015:

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Jobs
Although the class of 2015 graduated college drowning in debt, they entered one of the best job markets for recent graduates in decades. With the unemployment rate in the U.S. currently at 5%, recent grads are entering the job market at one of the best times in the past 40 years, the Washington Post reports. The class of 2015 is also starting out making more money than the class before them. According to National Association of Colleges and Employers the average starting salary for a 2015 bachelor's degree graduate is $50,651, a 5.2% increase over the class of 2014's average starting salary.

LBGT Rights
Although same-sex marriage became legal in every state in the U.S. this year, the LBGT community took a major loss at the colligate level. Since 2014, over 60 religious colleges and universities have applied to become exempt from a federal law that bans publicly funded schools from discriminating against LBGT students and faculty. In December of 2015, The Column, a news organization in Minnesota, published a list of over two dozen schools who won Title IX waivers allowing them the "right-to discriminate" against LBGT students and faculty. Over 80,000 students are enrolled in these colleges and universities and together the institutions received nearly $130 million in federal research grants and student aid in 2014.

See images from the day the Supreme Court ruled in that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional:

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Racial Inequality
Since the 1960s, U.S. universities have been at the center of activism against racial inequality -- and that hasn't changed. A new wave of student activism emerged in 2014 with the Black Lives Matter Movement, which continued in 2015. Most recently, students around the country and world stood in solidarity with students at the University of Missouri. After a series of racist incidents on campus a coalition of students joined together demanding University President Tim Wolfe step dow. When graduate student Johnathan Butler went on a hunger strike the movement gained national attention and eventually football players joined in the protest leading to the president's resignation. The work of student activists using social media and the hashtag #concernedstudent1950 prompted numerous students of colors and allies at other leading universities to present their own demands.

Sexual Assault
In 2015, one of the largest studies focusing on sexual assault and misconduct found that 23% of female college students experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact. 11% reported that the unwanted contact included penetration or oral sex. The survey conducted by the Association of American Universities gathered data from 150,000 students participating from 27 universities. In 2014, a White House task force on sexual assault released a set of recommendations for schools to protect students from sexual assault, but many say much more is needed to be done to combat this problem on campuses.

Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz brought sexual assault on college campuses to the national spotlight when she carried the mattress she was sexually assaulted on throughout campus up until her graduation:

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