What’s Behind America’s Soaring College Costs? Private college tuition tripled over the past 40 years in real dollars, writes Ronan Keenan in The Atlantic. “In the last decade the increase was a staggering 25 percent.”
Federal student aid more than doubled from 2002 to 2012, he writes. That enabled colleges to raise tuition. Lenders bear no risk because student loans are guaranteed by the government.
Colleges have effectively been guaranteed an income stream and have used that certainty to partake in an arms race against each other by constructing lavish facilities and inflating administrative processes. The pursuit of education has turned into a vicious circle in which students need bigger loans to pay for higher costs, and colleges charge higher costs because students are getting bigger loans.
University presidents are paid lavishly, like CEOs of big companies.
Professors are teaching less. Only 43.6 percent of full-time faculty members spent nine hours or more teaching, according to a 2011 survey by the Higher Education Research Institute. That’s down from 63.4 percent in 1991. Hours spent preparing to teach also fell.
The only way to control tuition costs is to reduce government support, writes Keenan. If student loans weren’t backed by the government, lenders would be reluctant to loan large amounts to humanities majors with low earnings prospects and to unprepared students who are unlikely to graduate.
Both colleges and employers must embrace three-year bachelors degrees; the traditional four years is an arbitrary number that just extends the time in education. Institutions can also reduce costs by adapting to the modern age and offer more online learning. But they will only do this is if the government limits the ability of students to pay the prevailing high tuition costs.
The current model enriches the universities while “graduates drown in debt,” Keenan concludes.
His proposal would cut access to higher education — and it would force colleges to cut costs. Is it worth it?