Crisis in College Pricing?

Despite the fact that no one’s interested in actually trying to fix the problem, the validity of the crisis in college costs is pretty much unchallenged. We all know college costs too much. We know college costs seem to rise faster than the cost of everything else.

Maybe there’s no crisis, however. Maybe it’s all okay. That’s what Robert Archibald and David Feldman argue in their new book, Why Does College Cost So Much?. College pricing is doing just fine, argue the authors, because consumers still have a lot of money left over.

As Stanley Fish argues in his review of the book in the New York Times, education costs have increased, but:

Not, however, to the point of making the product unavailable to middle-class buyers. …Usually the question asked is, “What percentage of a family’s income goes to the cost of higher education?” Archibald and Feldman prefer to “ask instead whether the amount left over after subtracting the cost of college is rising or falling over time.” The answer they give (buttressed by statistical tables) is “rising”: what their data show is that “over long stretches of time, college costs have been rising at a faster pace than income per worker, yet the average worker’s actual dollar income has gone up by more than the costs, leaving more resources on the family table to spend on other things.”

Well that’s nice to know, I guess but such broad, national statistical information seems undermined by other, more immediate concerns.

Some 65.6 percent of college graduates have education debt as they start their first jobs. The average debt load is $23,186.

That sort of thing actually is a problem, or makes it very hard for graduates to live. I guess it’s nice to know parents still have some money left over after paying for college, but merely having extra money left doesn’t mean the financial plan is a sound one.

Exactly what, then, would be an inappropriate amount of money to spend on college?

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