The Real Cost of a College Education

Nobody is quite sure what the real increase in college tuition has been over the past two decades, but it has now been revealed that the increase is far lower than what the federal government has been telling us.


According to an article appearing in the New York Times titled “How Government Exaggerates College Cost,” the government says that “college tuition and fees have risen an astounding 107 percent since 1992, even after adjusting for economy-wide inflation . . .” No other household expense has increased at this rate.


Progressives and Millennials have been screaming and berating colleges for being insensitive to the needs of students and about skyrocketing student debt. Unfortunately, these groups have been using the wrong numbers to make their cases. The result is that many “experts” have discouraged students from applying to college. The rationale is that the debt incurred for college tuition is far greater than the benefits a student will receive in the workplace with a college degree. In other words, the return on the money spent for college is not great enough to offset the investment that must be made.


The rate of increase, until just a few years ago, was based upon the “list prices” published by colleges in their information brochures. Astonishingly, government grants were not taken into consideration. The result is that affluent families not eligible for aid did incur the increases calculated by the government, but middle and lower class families who did receive aid experienced far lower increases.


The Times article indicates that the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to change its methodology in 2003 to reflect the effect of financial aid. However, the general public has not known about this situation, and the numbers prior to 2003 were not recalculated.


The actual impact is best exhibited by considering the cost of attending a private college without aid- something that only wealthy families do. It is about $60,000 per year. Taking into account financial aid from federal and state sources, the cost is $12,460 for private colleges last year and $3,120 for in-state public four-year colleges.


I hope those deferring or eschewing college because of the expected returns recalculate the numbers. They are now staggeringly in favor going to school.


Other non-government sources that calculated the increase in college tuition including the impact of financial aid have said the increase has been 22 percent for private four-year colleges since 1992. The increase was 60 percent for public four-year colleges.


For your information, other prices have risen since 1992 as follows: gasoline, 83 percent; child care, 44 percent; and supermarket food, 3 percent. New vehicles have fallen 34 percent and furniture is down 39 percent.


Given the heated debate about college attendance, it is pathetic and hurtful that our government has misrepresented such an important statistic. Could this have been politically motivated?

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