The Scandal of College Tuition
In a world where parents go into debt to finance their children’s higher education and where alumni, corporations, and Congress are besieged with calls for more donations to colleges and universities, the time is long overdue to ask why college is so costly. Nobel-prize-winning economist Milton Friedman has estimated that colleges could operate at a profit, charging about half of what most Ivy League institutions charge. Why then does college cost so much? What is going on?
The average tuition at American colleges and universities rose every year throughout the decade of the 1980′s, at a rate much higher than the general rate of inflation in the economy. Private colleges led the way, charging not only the highest tuitions but also taking a growing percentage of family income. In academic year 1976-77, the average tuition at private four-year colleges was less than 17 percent of median family income but, by academic year 1987-88, their tuition was more than 22 percent of median family income. By academic year 1990-91, there were 255 private colleges where tuition alone was $10,000 per year or more. By no means were these all distinguished institutions.
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