For most Americans, paying for college will be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — expense they face in their lifetime.
While there is plenty of blame to go around, just how can higher education institutions charge so much?
The short answer is: Because they can.
“We’ve been selling college as part of the American dream,” said Beth Akers, author of “Making College Pay.” “And so people are willing to pay any price. That’s a huge drive-up in demand for higher education that allows colleges and universities to continue to raise the price year after year after year.”
According to data from the college board, the cost of going to college has skyrocketed, rising at five times the rate of inflation over the last 50 years.
For the 2021-2022 academic year, the average price of tuition and fees averaged $10,740 per year for public, in-state tuition on the low end, all the way up to $38,070 for private colleges.
But those are averages. Many are nearly double that amount. The University of Chicago ranks highest at $79,356 per year. That’s $317,424 over four years.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced canceling of some student debt for millions of Americans, delivering at least partially on a campaign promise and hoping to energize younger, college-educated voters ahead of the November midterm elections.
More than 40 million Americans could see their student loan debt reduced — and in many cases eliminated — under Biden’s plan.
Critics say that is just not enough.
“The cost of college has gone up as we have, as a country, decided to subsidize higher education,” said Naomi Schaefer Riley, author of “The Faculty Lounges.” “So the more we have thrown at Pell Grants and other forms of financial aid and grants, the more college administrators have felt free to raise tuition.”
Riley argues schools are spending like crazy, installing lazy rivers on campus, paying their football coaches exorbitant sums, but spending few of those dollars on education itself.
“One of the things that you’ve definitely seen balloon in recent years is the number of administrators on college campuses,” Riley says.
According to Riley, colleges have cut costs on teaching, which is exactly where most people would want them to be putting their resources.
“I think that’s probably what’s most outrageous about the way these budgets are working,” she said.
Akers believes the power to bring the costs down rests in part with the students.
“Let the colleges do what they need to do to create the best experience for the student,” she said. “The only way we’re gonna reign in costs is to empower consumers. … If we empower them to be able to walk away when the price is too high and make sure they understand what it is they’re paying, I think that’s what’s gonna really bring price back in line with value in the long run.”