In a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, Adam Davidson asks the question “Is College Tuition Really Too High1?” His answer is a little ambiguous - “depends on what you mean by college.”
The article begins with a comparison of today’s incomes and college costs with those from 1974. To see that median household incomes have declined by roughly 15% as tuition rates have quadrupled is still startling despite the amount of media coverage this issue has received.
With the 2016 election cycle already in full swing, presidential candidates from both sides of the aisle have weighed in on the problem, offering a wide range of solutions: from making a community college education free and increasing federal funding, to cutting funding for the Department of Education. Other proposals hope to solve the problem by cutting higher education budgets as Scott Walker has done in his home state of Wisconsin and reducing the government’s role by eliminating affirmative action as Jeb Bush has done in Florida.
Politics aside, Davidson makes special note of the transformative effects that education provides for the individual and society at large. While he suggests that affording college is a personal challenge for middle class families, he sees “the great national crisis is the fact that too many other young adults are not going to college or, if they do, don’t graduate, in large part because they can’t afford it.”
What follows is a detailed analysis of the education industry, from the “elite” private colleges to the “large regional powerhouses,” to the “nonselective public community and private for-profit colleges that admit nearly every paying applicant.” Davidson provides historical context by describing the rise of the middle class and the advent of technology that from 1900 to 1980 “transformed a nation of semiliterate farmers into the world’s most educated country.” Davidson breaks down pricing for each of the tiers and takes a closer look at the impact of increased competition and the effect of tuition discounting.
To read the full article and learn about the hope Davidson sees in experimental programs designed to improve graduation rates for at risk students at CUNY and Columbia University click here1.