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College Costs Rise Faster Than Anything

On the PRS NewsHour, Judy Woodruff, talking with Mark Shields and Rich Lowry, asked Shields about the cost of college tuition nowadays.  Shields responded with his usual vigor, plus some interesting economic statistics.  Is there a problem with college costs today? His reply:

Mark Shields

Mark Shields

“I think it’s a real problem. To be very frank, since 2001 in this country,the cost of a four-year college, a public university, room and board, tuition, has gone up 73 percent, 73 percent in 10 years, between 2001 and 2011.  At the same time, the median household income in this country has dropped by $3,400. So, I mean, is it a problem? Is the cost of college a problem?”

Mark Shields’ figures are probably based on a recent report by  the National Center for Education Statistics.  The big picture is even more dramatic. (We would say worse, but we don’t want to discourage you.)  FinAid, an objective site devoted to information about college costs  and college financial aid, notes that “On average, tuition tends to increase about 8% per year. An 8% college inflation rate means that the cost of college doubles every nine years.” In other words, if you have a nine-year-old child that you hope to send off to college, you — or you and your child — will be paying twice as much as you’d pay today.  Here’s a graph displayed by FinAid showing that for thirty years the cost of going to college has always risen faster than the general rate of inflation.Tuition IinflationBy the way, keep in mind that the graph displays the rate of inflation, so when the line turns down that doesn’t mean that the cost of college tuition declines; it’s still going up, but the rate at which it’s going up has slowed.

And, as if you needed any more bad news on this subject, here’s a chart showing that workers have been getting more and more productive, but their wages have remained essentially flat. In other words, workers have been getting better at turning out goods and providing service, but their income hasn’t risen and the cost of sending their kids to college has gone through the roof. Wages have been essentially flat for decades.Productivity vs Wages for last  13 years ECI is the abbreviation for Employment Cost Index, and ECEC is the abbreviation for Employer Cost for Employee Compensation. The chart comes from the Economic Policy Institute.

More Notes


Tim Carmody, in his excellent piece, "How Haiti Became Poor", notes that President Trump's racist policies and vulgar language have sullied the word "shithole" which used to be one of the all-time great swear words. He's right. It's another terrible power this careless President wields.