Is Tuition Really Too Damn High?

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In case you haven’t been following along, the Washington Post has been running an extensive series called “The Tuition is Too Damn High.” The underlying point is that — you guessed it! — college costs way, way too much these days. The cost of going to college has more than doubled over the past 45 years, even accounting for inflation. Rising costs contribute to more student debt, more stressed out parents, and perhaps even greater inflation.

You really should go read the whole series, which touches on online education, state higher ed cuts, the rich kid problem, and more. But here are a few highlights, for those of you who prefer the Cliff’s Notes version:
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+For many public colleges, the rising tuition problem came about because states drastically reduced the amount of money they contributed to institutions of higher education. The schools aren’t spending more; they’re just getting less from their main benefactors. To make up the difference, they raise tuition.

+Public and private research universities (ahem, Johns Hopkins) spend some of their money on high-profile profs, who end up driving everyone else’s costs up. But that’s only one factor. Another is that these schools really, really want to attract rich students; they’re the ones, after all, who are paying those exorbitant full tuition bills and subsidizing many of their poorer classmates. To compete for rich kids, schools are having to swankify their student services… hence the climbing walls, luxe dorm rooms, and other brag-worthy (but expensive) perks.

+Judging from results of the College Learning Assessment, competitive schools don’t always teach their students the most. But colleges are loathe to tell students that.

+Despite it all, going to college is still a smart bet. Students with a college degree have a median income of $49,648, more than $17,000 more than their high-school-only counterparts.



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  1. I found the graph in the article, illustrating the disparity of “all-in” college costs of private institutions versus public ones very interesting, but not for the reasons that the author may have intended. What I found particularly intriguing were the actual costs plotted in the graph compared to what my wife and I have experienced as college tuition/room & board paying parents. Where did The Washington Post get its statistics?

    We have one son attending a state university (sadly, as an out-of-state student)where the all-in costs are considerably more than $40k (not including books). This same university is recognized by in a Kiplinger Report as one of the “Top Ten Best Values” for an undergraduate education. (This seems difficult to reconcile with The Washingon Post’s graph.) Our younger son is in the process of applying to a mix of public and private universities…, but all of their “all-in” costs, with the exception of the in-state University of Maryland, are also above $40k, with an overwhelming number of the private institutions’ costs clocking-in above $55k.

    Would it be possible for The Washington Post to share the list of institutions that it used in the graphing of both the public and the private institutions’ costs with my wife and me, or better yet, with my son and his college guidance counselor? While we are too late with our older son, perhaps we can reduce our overall and average college costs down to a level that is more reflective of the Washington Post’s graph!

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