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Back to school in the USA: 4 charts

from David Ruccio

Now and in the coming weeks, many U.S. college students will be preparing for the resumption of classes. Some of them will be worrying about the escalating tuition and fees and wondering if they’ll be able to pay them. Many others, for whom college might have been considered as a possibility, will be locked out by rising college costs or will have to consider going deeper into debt.

That’s because, as Allison Linn [ht: ja] explains,

the cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled since 2000. That’s a bigger percentage increase than, well, pretty much anything else.

source [pdf]

Here’s another version of the fact that college costs have been rising much faster than overall inflation:


No wonder there’s a growing debate about whether or not a college degree is worth it, and right-wing academic populism is on the rise.

One thing is clear: the escalation of college tuition and fees is not being driven by professors’ salaries.

Here are the annual percentage increases in faculty salaries for the past decade:


And here’s the difference between increases in faculty pay and the growth of faculty salaries:


There’s a looming crisis here: as colleges and universities continue to raise their tuition and fees, students and their families are getting squeezed (because their wages and salaries are stagnant, and they can’t take on any more debt) and faculty members are not seeing those tuition hikes show up in their own pay (and so they need to ask where all the money is going to).

  1. August 15, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Anybody else pick up that “right wing academic populists” – they are in Missouri, too – want to both 1) Get profs out of research and back into the classroom and 2) replace profs with Khan Academy videos….?

    It must be dialectical.

  2. Pandora
    August 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    So what IS behind such a rise in tuition costs and fees? Are the college and university administrators and boards of regents or whatever voting themselves pay hikes? Is it the desire for bigger and “better” buildings on campus? Are the football and basketball programs creating the need for price increases? If the professors and adjunct faculties are not seeing any income gain, where are the tuition dollars going??

    The telling word left out of the link “right wing academic populists” is “free market.” Anymore, education has become just another commodity that marketing efforts have convinced us we need. Even the professors are told that they must “publish or perish” and so new academic journals are created–new markets–in response.

    It often seems that there is so much “clutter” in our society that we’ve lost the ability to see what has value and what does not.

  3. mcdruid
    August 16, 2011 at 9:06 am

    There are two other major factors in this equation. The first is the rise of part-time/contingent faculty that now make up over 50% of the teaching staff at many colleges. It doesn’t look like the faculty salary data accounts for this, so the actual salaries are much lower.

    The other factor is that the tuition numbers are the list prices. The out-of-pocket costs can be, and often are, substantially less. Many of the big name schools will pay the entire difference between what the list price is and what they think you can afford.

    One of the reasons for the tuition increase is that high education appears to be a Veblen Good. A higher tuition signals that you offer a better education: a $1000 increase in tuition leads to better quality candidates.

  4. Alice
    August 16, 2011 at 10:25 am

    The students are now in the new privatised uni world being treated as cash cows and milked, well and truly.
    Its not worth it. Why did we have universities in the first place? Something about knowledge and the freedom of its conctraints from commercial interests…oh pardon me I must have made the mistake of being been born in the 50s when people realised commercail interests could well and truly stuff up the quest for knowledge.

    Have to make a buck everynwhere now…even in unis. So yukky.

  5. jon bull
    August 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    As far as I can tell, the reason tuition is skyrocketing is twofold.

    One (and most significantly), funding from the state has decreased dramatically over the last couple decades. Where my university (a public flagship in the Midwest) received approximately 2/3 of its budget from tax revenues in the 1960s/70s, it receives about 20-25% today (in this sense, the distinction between private and public increasingly diminishes, but that’s another topic).

    Second, the culture of the American university has evolved during this same time period to turn college into a “fun experience” rather than self-discipline. This places a burden on tuition dollars as many new construction projects break ground that the campus could really go without (workout facilities, for example); these are justified under the banner of attracting freshmen. While these types of things enhance the quality of life, it also restricts what type of student gets to enter the campus and enjoy them.

    My university has never really been cross-sectional of the state’s population, but my prediction is that the undergraduate body will become even whiter and more affluent as the only families able to afford tuition will come from the swanky metropolitan suburbs.

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