Death, Taxes, and Rising Tuition

Overall, college tuition goes up. Only. Endlessly. Even during times of severe and widespread economic insecurity. Ron Lieber of The New York Times devoted his Saturday Your Money column to asking why, which led to an informative interview with Daniel H. Weiss, president of Lafayette College in Pennsylvania.

We all know why schools like Harvard and Princeton, where demand (applicants) will always far, far outstrip supply (spots in an incoming class), can afford to charge outrageous amounts for tuition. But what about schools like Lafayette, which isn’t considered top-tier but where annual costs now exceed $50,000—that is, right around the nation’s median household annual income?

Part of the answer, according to Lieber’s piece, is simple: colleges and universities generally don’t have much choice in the matter. Colleges simply have too many administrative costs—and too little flexibility with regards to cutting expenses the way other businesses can in troubled financial times (most companies don’t have large numbers of employees who can’t be fired, for example)—to do anything but charge more to students. The article does a nice of explaining the underlying processes (dysfunctions?) that lead to this, and is worth a read.

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Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.