College fees have for decades risen faster than Americans’ ability to pay them. Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13 (a year in the Ivy League will set you back $38,000, excluding bed and board). Academic inflation makes medical inflation look modest by comparison.According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent over the last 25 years. Obviously, college costs cannot continue to devour a larger and larger share of middle class income indefinitely. Eventually, a point will be reached when people conclude that a college education is no longer worth the exorbitant ticket price. When a large enough share of the population believes that it has reached that point, colleges that are used to yearly increases in tuition income will be forced to make substantial changes. All colleges are vulnerable to changing economic conditions. Now that the consequences of the real estate bubble have become painfully apparent, more and more people are using "bubble" to describe the unsustainable growth in higher education. There are already too few jobs in academe for those seeking them (see Reasons 8 and 13). What will the situation be like if the bubble bursts?
Monday, November 1, 2010
When considering devoting your life—or at least a large portion of it—to academe, it is worth considering the big picture and the future of higher education. For decades, tuition has been rising higher and higher, with either parents or students (incurring more and more debt) expected to shoulder the burden. As the Economist recently pointed out: