How Did College Get So Expensive?


The average four-year private college in the United States now costs $26,273 a year. How did this happen. Well according to a short piece by Anya Kamenetz in New York magazine the mounting price of college has a lot to do with increasingly resort-like facilities at college campuses. From the article:

It wasn’t always this way. In the early-nineteenth century, writes Frederick Rudolph in The American College & University: A History, the scions of the country’s elites slept in barracks and dined on “wormy salt pork,” and their main extracurricular was chapel, where they spent as much time as they did in class. Unpleasant? Perhaps. But also far less expensive. “There is a trickle-down that occurs everywhere,” says Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability. “It sets a tone that affects the whole industry.”

Exactly. Even rich people used to live in unpleasant surroundings while in college. It was only later that anyone began to care about students’ comfort.

But some colleges manage to keep costs down, largely by refusing to engage in the campus facilities arms race. New York’s Cooper Union, for instance, charges no tuition. Part of this has to do with the school’s endowment, which is almost $600 million. But Cooper Union is also thrifty. As the school’s president explains, “We don’t have a gym, swimming pools, climbing walls, not even a major cafeteria. We do have a dormitory, but it only houses the freshmen. We’re all about academics here.”[Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer