Can We Make College Cheaper? - Miller-McCune
The authors of “Why Does College Cost So Much?” take a look at the root causes and determine that we can reduce the price of higher education, but not dramatically.
Critics of American higher education have a set of theories to explain the ever-rising cost of college tuition. Schools are inefficient. They blow too much money on administrators, not enough on academics. The academics they do have spend their time on research, not students. And those students live in an increasingly plush world created by the arms race for prestige rankings: Best medium-sized college in the Midwest! Most wired campus in the country! Top-rated college for would-be aerospace engineers!
“These people are going to say, ‘Ah! Colleges, they’ve turned themselves into country clubs!’” said David Feldman, an economist at the College of William & Mary. “Everybody can point to an anecdote of a souped-up dorm and say, ‘Yep, that’s the problem right there!’”
Feldman and William & Mary colleague Robert Archibald refer to this set of theories as the “dysfunction narrative” of the rising cost of college tuition. This is the narrative that dominates policy debates around what to do about the problem. And Feldman and Archibald argue that these explanations get the whole story wrong.
“There’s a part of the story they may explain,” Archibald said. “But I think it’s a much smaller part of the story than other people think.”
The two economists pick apart the case for higher-ed dysfunction in their book, “Why Does College Cost So Much?” And they’ve distilled their alternative explanation into a breezier paper just published by the American Council on Education that should inform policymakers and angry Occupiers trying to figure out where all this college debt came from — and what we’re going to do about it if we want more Americans to have access to some higher education.
“Everyone’s saying, ‘but we ought to just be able to economize and cut out all the fat, that’s the solution to this problem. Schools are fat, sassy and over-fed. And if government cuts off the spigot, it’ll force us to become more efficient,’” Feldman said. “We began to look at that seriously: Is that really what’s going on?”
Their first observation is a jarring one: the cost of college education generally always rises faster than inflation. But the pair argues that’s not the real problem here; education isn’t unique in this. Feldman and Archibald produce this graph charting products (cars, jewelry, nursing homes, education, etc.) that grew more costly than the rate of inflation over the last six decades: