The Problem with College: The Price Does Not Reflect the Value

After reading these two posts (I’m a little behind), and stumbling across this LRB piece bemoaning the failure of universities, it’s worth understanding that a college degree and the experience is a good thing, it’s just become wildly overpriced. First, let’s look at college costs (and these include everything) from 1960:

(from here)

In 1961, the minimum wage was $1.15, which means that a student who worked part-time in high-school (and summers) and in college could pay his way through school. UC Berkeley tuition was equal to around 600 hours of minimum wage (not including taxes). Here’s the situation in 2011:

Flagship state universities set their prices below those of elite private colleges. But they are not cheap by any other standard. At the University of Michigan, an in-state freshman will face total expenses of $25,204, a senior $26,810. At Penn State, an in-state freshman will pay $25,416 for tuition, fees, and living expenses this year.

That’s around 3,500 hours of minimum wage (again, I haven’t factored in taxes). Unless a student is involved in one or more of the various sex industries, loans are a requirement–for in-state students.

I’m not a believer in some educational halcyon days of yore. Yes, students are studying less thirty years ago, but they are better educated than they were thirty years ago (if the NAEP is to be believed). College isn’t a bad product, but the problem is that it costs too much.

That’s the crisis.

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1 Response to The Problem with College: The Price Does Not Reflect the Value

  1. John McCormick says:

    I find it difficult to believe the costs for these degrees. I am an Australian citizen, and have recently completed my Master of Nursing degree in one of the top universities in Australia. Even without government help, it would only have cost approximately $16,000, I had government support and paid just under $5,000. Why does it cost $25,000/year for an undergraduate degree in the US?

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