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What Is Behind Rising Tuition Costs?

Between overall economic trends and steep increases in college tuition, there have been hints of a tuition cost bubble. One of the main concerns is that the rise of college costs outpaces overall Consumer Price Index rates and inflation. Although worries over bubbles and general rising costs persist, the benefits of going to college continue to surpass the cost, not only in lifetime earnings, but also in job flexibility and growth. But there is no denying that college is increasingly expensive.

Economists Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman of the College of William & Mary in Virginia recently wrote a book, Why Does College Cost So Much?, about this trend. Contrary to popular notions that college tuition is skyrocketing out of control because of glorious dorms, tenure, and public money, they place their conclusions in a broader, historical context. Here are two of their arguments.

Service expenses and productivity

More service providers – professors and administrative staff — are highly skilled, and higher wages are demanded to keep these highly educated providers. Archibald and Feldmand also argue that providing good services in higher education is not only competitive, but also takes time. Because of these two factors, increasing productivity is also a challenge, which drives up institutions’ costs. Administrative staff for career services, mental health support, and health care are also essential in today’s college experience, which cannot be replaced. These workers are not “increasing output” per se – so in financial terms it may seem they are an extra cost. But their services are essential.

Technological innovations and trends

Taking a broad view, Archibald and Feldmand also see innovations in technology as one of the main factors increasing college tuition costs. While distance learning, computers, and other technology change, aid, and improve education, technology has not replaced real teachers or the time spent in a classroom – and those interactions take time and money. But college today is incomplete without training in electronic databases, lab equipment, and IT infrastructure. Maintenance costs for technology also show up in tuition costs. Equipment and technology is necessary for a complete, competitive education. It just takes…more money.

While written in economic terms, the book is accessible to the non-economically minded, and provides a myriad of data and a long-view of the rising cost of college tuition. For more information, see the New York Times recent interview with the authors. For anyone curious about the background of college tuition, the book provides a deep context and many perspectives.

 

This article is titled, “What Is Behind Tuition Costs?” and was written by Marta Casey, a writer for Top Test Prep’s team.

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