The Atlantic ran an article that covers most of the main points on why college is so expensive and if it’s ultimately worth the cost.

You can read the entire article here

Here are some excerpts:

“Today, the U.S. spends more on college than almost any other country, according to the 2018 Education at a Glance report, released…by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).”

“Including the contributions of individual families and the government (in the form of student loans, grants, and other assistance), Americans spend about $30,000 per student a year—nearly twice as much as the average developed country.”

“Only one country spends more per student, and that country is Luxembourg—where tuition is nevertheless free for students, thanks to government outlays.”

“In fact, a third of developed countries offer college free of charge to their citizens. (And another third keep tuition very cheap—less than $2,400 a year.)”

“Why does college cost so much? And is it worth it?”

“At first…I wanted to blame the curdled indulgences of campus life: fancy dormitories, climbing walls, lazy rivers, dining halls with open-fire-pit grills. And most of all—college sports. Certainly sports deserved blame.”

“The U.S. ranks No. 1 in the world for spending on student-welfare services such as housing, meals, health care, and transportation, a category of spending that the OECD lumps together under ‘ancillary services.'”

“All in all, American taxpayers and families spend about $3,370 on these services per student—more than three times the average for the developed world.”

“One reason for this difference is that American college students are far more likely to live away from home. And living away from home is expensive, with or without a lazy river.”

“Experts say that campuses in Canada and Europe tend to have fewer dormitories and dining halls than campuses in the U.S.”

“’Reasonable people can argue about whether American universities should have these kinds of services, but the fact that we do does not mark American universities as inherently inefficient. It marks them as different.’”

“But on closer inspection, the data suggest a bigger problem than fancy room and board.”

“Even if we were to zero out all these ancillary services tomorrow, the U.S. would still spend more per college student than any other country (except, again, Luxembourg).”

“It turns out that the vast majority of American college spending goes to routine educational operations—like paying staff and faculty—not to dining halls.”

“These costs add up to about $23,000 per student a year—more than twice what Finland, Sweden, or Germany spends on core services.”

“’Lazy rivers are decadent and unnecessary, but they are not in and of themselves the main culprit.’”

“The business of providing an education is so expensive because college is different from other things that people buy…College is a service, for one thing, not a product, which means it doesn’t get cheaper along with changes in manufacturing technology (economists call this affliction “cost disease”).”

“And college is a service delivered mostly by workers with college degrees—whose salaries have risen more dramatically than those of low-skilled service workers over the past several decades.”

“College is not the only service to have gotten wildly more expensive in recent decades.”

“Since 1950, the real prices of the services of doctors, dentists, and lawyers have risen at similar rates as the price of higher education.”

“’The villain, as much as there is one, is economic growth itself.’”

“This all makes sense, if we just focus on the U.S. But what about the rest of the world?”

“These broader economic trends exist there, too.”

“So why does college still cost half as much, on average, in other countries?”

“In this public system, the high cost of college has as much to do with politics as economics.”

“Many state legislatures have been spending less and less per student on higher education for the past three decades.”

“Bewitched by the ideology of small government (and forced by law to balance their budgets during a period of mounting health-care costs), states have been leaving once-world-class public universities begging for money.”

“The cuts were particularly stark after the 2008 recession.”

“The easiest way for universities to make up for the cuts was to shift some of the cost to students and to find richer students.”

“’Once that sustainable public funding was taken out from under these schools, they started acting more like businesses.’”

“State cutbacks did not necessarily make colleges more efficient, which was the hope; they made colleges more entrepreneurial.”

“Some universities began to enroll more full-paying foreign and out-of-state students to make up the difference.”

“’They moved away from working to educate people in their region to competing for the most elite and wealthy students—in a way that was unprecedented.’”

“This competition eventually crept beyond climbing walls and dining halls into major, long-term operating expenses.”

“For example, U.S. colleges spend, relative to other countries, a startling amount of money on their nonteaching staff.”

“These people are librarians or career or mental-health counselors who directly benefit students, but many others do tangential jobs that may have more to do with attracting students than with learning.”

“Many U.S. colleges employ armies of fund-raisers, athletic staff, lawyers, admissions and financial-aid officers, diversity-and-inclusion managers, building-operations and maintenance staff, security personnel, transportation workers, and food-service workers.”

“In the beginning, university administrators may have started competing for full-freight paying students in order to help subsidize other, less affluent students.”

“But once other colleges got into the racket, it became a spending arms race. More and more universities had to participate, including private colleges unaffected by state cuts, just to keep their application numbers up.”

“The U.S. does relatively well on measures of access to college, but the price varies wildly depending on the place and the person.”

“Somehow, students have to find their way through this thicket of competition and choose wisely, or suffer the consequences.”

“At the very least, the American government could do a better job sharing information about the quality of colleges in ways everyone can understand.”

“Spending a lot of money can be worth it, if you get something awesome in exchange.”

“America does have a disproportionate number of elite colleges, which accept fewer than 10 percent of applicants, and these places do employ some brilliant scholars who do groundbreaking research.”

“But fewer than 1 percent of American students attend highly selective colleges like those.”

“Instead, more than three-quarters of students attend nonselective colleges, which admit at least half of their applicants.”

“Americans with college degrees earn 75 percent more than those who only completed high school.”

“Over a lifetime, people with bachelor’s degrees earn more than half a million dollars more than people with no college degree in the U.S.”

“In fact, no other country rewards a college degree as richly as the United States, and few other countries punish people so relentlessly for not having one.”

“It’s a diabolical cycle: Colleges are very expensive to run, partly because of the high salaries earned by their skilled workers.”

“But those higher salaries make college degrees extremely valuable, which means Americans will pay a lot to get them.”

“And so colleges can charge more.”

“Still, the return varies wildly depending on the college one attends.”

“Associate’s degrees from for-profit universities lead to smaller salary bumps than associate’s degrees from community colleges, which are cheaper.”

“And two-thirds of students at for-profits drop out before earning their degree anyway, meaning many will spend years struggling with debt they cannot afford to pay off—and cannot, under U.S. law, off-load through bankruptcy.”

“This convoluted, complicated, inconsistent system continues to exist, and continues to be so expensive because college in America is still worth the price.”

“At certain colleges, for certain people.”

“Especially if they finish.”

“But it doesn’t have to be this way, and almost everywhere else, it isn’t.”

Again you can read the entire article here

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