I have written before about the astronomic rise in college tuition and costs. Writing in Inside Higher Education (College Affordability: The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing) Anthony P. Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, provides much needed context and analysis.
At a time, more than ever, when a college education, is becoming essential for economic survival we are on a accelerated path to screwing low income, working class, and middle class families. We are seeing this first hand in Minnesota as more and more students who want to go to college just cannot afford to do so. The situation is even worse in many other states. If denied access to higher education, where will these citizens and their families end up ten, fifteen, and twenty years from now?
Some of Carnevale's observations and conclusions:
- Private tuitions distort the data on rising tuitions as illustrated by this statistic: College tuition rates have risen more than 300 percent since 1987, when overall prices have only risen by a little more than 80 percent. Look closer and you will see that the big tuition increases come at the high-priced private institutions, not the public colleges. Tuition increases in public colleges have been relatively constrained and competitive. According to the College Board Trends in College Pricing survey in 2007, tuitions at four-year public colleges have risen by a little more than 50 percent in the last ten years and by about 20 percent in public two-year colleges – a far cry form 300%.
The Delta Cost Project on Postsecondary Costs shows that costs in public postsecondary institutions have risen by less than 5 percent since 1998. That’s a relatively mild increase in an industry that is as labor intensive as education. It’s also a relatively mild increase in cost, given the fact that in public colleges, tuition never covers full cost. Public postsecondary education is one of the few businesses where every new customer means bigger losses.
the economic and social demand for postsecondary education grows,
public higher education becomes increasingly stranded as a mass
democratic institution with no dedicated and countercyclical public
- Political leaders, faced with declining budget resources, especially in
the states, are tempted to point the public toward tuition increases as
the root of the affordability problem because it deflects attention
from public disinvestment in higher education, which is the real cause
of rising tuition.
college students from low-income families and nontraditional students
are hit the hardest in recessions. With revenues down, public colleges
reduce need-based institutional aid and academic advising, increase
class sizes and limit course offerings.
- One way to ease the funding crunch has been to let markets have more say in determining public college tuitions — and this may have particular appeal for the more elite public flagships. It shouldn’t be surprising that in the knowledge economy, college is worth a lot more than it costs. Most selective public and private colleges still leave a lot of money on the table when they set their tuition rates. And the data from the Delta project shows that we would have to more than double tuitions at public four-year colleges and triple tuitions at public two-year schools to cover full costs. If you think tuitions are high now, you haven’t seen anything yet.
As Wall Street and others line up for bailout money, it's our students who are getting short changed and will bear the costs in future years. I realize that this post is polemical. We will dig deeper into the data in future posts.