The “everyone must go to college” crowd is a cult. With a nice topping of pretension and moral preening.
If college is so expensive, why doesn’t it provide a truly stellar, unrivaled learning experience? Part of the reason is that very little of the exorbitant costs go towards educating. Only 21 cents out of every tuition dollar goes to instruction, according to Richard Vedder, Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.
From a purely market-orientated standpoint, why wouldn’t colleges keep raising their prices, as long as people keep paying? Ursinus College increased its freshman class by 55% after raising its prices. William Cooper, president of the University of Richmond, said that he and his administrators increased tuition by 27% in 2005 because, by maintaining their lower tuition prices, they were “leaving money on the table,” and they did not want to be “the cheap school” anymore. Russell Osgood, president of Grinnell College (the richest liberal arts college in the country, with around $1.5 billion in its endowment), says that he and his administrators raised their tuition price by 5% because the school had “been motoring along for about 20 years at a tuition figure and fees that was about 10 percent below the average for our [competitors], and … being lower [wasn’t] doing great things for us.” It’s as if a school can be seen as better or more prestigious simply because it dares to ask for more.
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But don’t dramatically higher prices make it more difficult for poorer students to attend a given college? They do, and that may be the idea. Colleges have vastly increased scholarship money for students in families earning $100,000 or more per year, but have relatively neglected scholarship increases for students from families earning just $40,000 or less. And it’s not just private colleges that offer this preferential treatment: the top 50 public colleges have recently increased aid to richer families by eight times more than the aid to poorer ones.
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These sorts of practices border on the unethical because they follow a process in which students are encouraged to borrow as much as possible and pay expensive interest rates. Many colleges even own stock in student loan companies, allowing them to benefit even more from their students’ debt, and over half of all colleges are more likely to accept a student who shows an interest in attending. They know that the more enthusiastic a student is, the more willing they’ll be to pay a high price.
The best way to combat this, ironically, is by educating prospective students. Yet most students seem blissfully unaware of how the process works, and colleges have no incentive to encourage them to find out.
If this sounds nothing like the picture of college you have in your mind, you’re not alone. The word “college,” for many of us, conjures up feelings of integrity and learning, of expanding one’s knowledge and promise, and of a collaborative process by which the learned people in society help the next generation achieve what they did. But the reality is not so grand. Colleges are a business, and they have no qualms about doing what is necessary to extract as much from prospective students and their families as possible.
I hear plenty about the corrupt hucksters on Wall Street, why aren’t we talking about the wealthy con artists in academia who turn absurd profits by convincing broke kids to bankrupt themselves?
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Why do we send guys like Bernie Madoff to prison while the academic elite get away with gouging an entire generation to death?
A trillion dollars in student loans. Record high unemployment. Three million good jobs that no one seems to want. The goal of Profoundly Disconnected is to challenge the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success. The Skills Gap is here, and if we don’t close it, it’ll swallow us all. Which is a long way of saying, we could use your help. . .
Bonus “taxes and frugality are for the little people” story:
Union bigwigs representing some of the nation’s lowest paid workers are holding their annual board meeting at one of Florida’s ritziest resorts just months after increasing membership dues.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents 1.4 million workers, is holding its annual board meeting at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort, where “Victorian elegance meets modern sophistication.”
Two-hundred-fifty union officials are attending the 11-day conference ending Jan. 25, although not all are staying at the Grand Floridian. Resort rooms start at $488 per night before taxes and can exceed $2,000 if officials opt for a two Bedroom Club Level suite.