Commentary Magazine


Ivy League Blues

Barack Obama gave a speech on college tuition, complaining (as he has before) that he and his fellow Ivy League-educated wife were burdened with the cost of repaying their Princeton, Columbia, and Harvard student loans:

Unfortunately, another thing that Michelle and I have in common is that we left school with a mountain of debt. We didn’t finish paying off our student loans until just a few years ago. Like a lot of families, we were still dealing with the cost of our own education when we had to start worrying about how we’d save for school for our girls.

Will this really motivate voters? Complaints about the debt acquired by a couple of millionaires who chose to go to the most expensive schools in the country? They — and lots and lots of other people — could choose to go to state schools which provide an education at a fraction of the cost.

It’s worthwhile examining whether Ivy students are even getting their money’s worth. It is even more interesting to see why universities are sitting on huge endowments but aren’t slowing the rate of tuition increases, as this report notes:

As endowments soar, the wealthiest colleges and universities are facing growing pressure from Congress to spend more of their savings to limit tuition increases and expand financial aid grants.Some lawmakers have suggested requiring colleges to spend at least 5 percent of their endowments each year, as nonprofits are required to do. Colleges have spent proportionately less of their endowment for each of the past four years and now spend 4.6 percent on average. Institutions with more than $1 billion spent 4.4 percent.

But it’s so much easier to get the taxpayers to fork over more money for students who choose very expensive schools. That neatly avoids the hard questions that might be focused on the halls of elite schools (where Obama’s supporters predominate, of course). And by magnifying the problem (Even Barack Obama can’t pay his debts!) it makes it that much easier to justify taking money from hardworking taxpayers to pay Harvard’s exorbitant prices. A perfect solution for everyone–everyone, that is, but the taxpayers.

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