The surprising state of U.S. colleges in 2015

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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:
11 PHOTOS
Student Loan Debt
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The surprising state of U.S. colleges in 2015
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Students hold placards as they stage a demonstration at the Hunter College, which is a part of New York City University, to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges in New York on November 13, 2015. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Students hold placards as they stage a demonstration at the Hunter College, which is a part of New York City University, to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges in New York on November 13, 2015. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: A woman holds a placard on Hollywood Boulevard while protesting the rising costs of student loans for higher education on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Students hold placards as they stage a demonstration at the Hunter College, which is a part of New York City University, to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges in New York on November 13, 2015. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Students hold placards as they stage a demonstration at the Hunter College, which is a part of New York City University, to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges in New York on November 13, 2015. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Students stage a demonstration at the Hunter College, which is a part of New York City University, to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges in New York on November 13, 2015. (Photo by Cem Ozdel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education on Hollywood Boulevard on September 22, 2012 in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles, California. Citing bank bailouts, the protesters called for student debt cancelations. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
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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:
25 PHOTOS
Supreme Court same-sex marriage arguments, gay marriage
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The surprising state of U.S. colleges in 2015
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: A gay marriage waves a flag in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: Supporters for and against gay marriage gather in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriages cheer outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: Supporters for and against gay marriage gather in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: A couple poses for a photo near the Supreme Court, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, with decisions expected in June. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Opponents of same-sex marriage demonstrate near the Supreme Court, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, with decisions expected in June. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Pro and anti-gay rights protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Pro and anti-gay rights protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Protesters hold pro-gay rights signs outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriages gather outside the US Supreme Court waiting for its decision on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to wed -- a potentially historic decision that could see same-sex marriage recognized nationwide. (Photo credit Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)
Plaintiff James Obergefell speaks about his case before tomorrow's arguments at the US Supreme Court April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin (R) speaks about Plaintiff's James Obergefell (L) case before tomorrow's arguments at the US Supreme Court April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Anti-gay marriage protesters gather in front of the US Supreme Court Building April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments April 28, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
People camp on the sidewalk outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015 in Washington, DC, to attend the April 28, 2015, US Supreme Court session regarding gay marriage. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J.RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold a pro-gay rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, countering the demonstrators who attended the March For Marriage in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the DC Sisters, the Abbey of Magnificent Intentions, wait for protesters from the March For Marriage outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters in the March For Marriage arrive outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
A Supreme Court Police Officer approaches a protester wearing a Michelle Obama mask, in a area not allowed for protesters, as the March For Marriage goes on outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators with Official Street Preachers hold up anti-homosexual placards in front of the White House in Washington, DC, April 26, 2015. The lengthy fight to allow gay marriage across America may soon be at an end with the Supreme Court set April 28 to consider whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. Already legal in 37 of the country's 50 states and in the capital Washington, experts say it seems inevitable that the nation's top court will recognize gay marriage. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Pro-gay rights protesters kiss outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Protesters hold pro-gay rights flags outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
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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:
26 PHOTOS
Emma Sulkowicz Mattress
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The surprising state of U.S. colleges in 2015
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, poses with a mattress, which she says she will carry every where she goes in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year, on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/Columbia Spectator)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/Columbia Spectator)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/Columbia Spectator)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29 : Students stand in front of the Library of the Columbia University with a mattress in support of Emma Sulkowicz's project against sexual assault, 'Carry That Weight' in which she carries her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is expelled from the university in New York, United States on October 29, 2014. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29 : Students stand in front of the Library of the Columbia University with a mattress in support of Emma Sulkowicz's project against sexual assault, 'Carry That Weight' in which she carries her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is expelled from the university in New York, United States on October 29, 2014. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (R), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, poses with a mattress, which she says she will carry every where she goes in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year, on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (R), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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