Myths and Realities about Rising College Tuition

That’s the title of a new article I wrote for NASFAA.

Myths and Realities about Rising College Tuition

For readers of WDCCSM, much of the argument will be familiar. The long term structural forces that drive college cost (and ultimately tuition) are dull, unsexy, and ultimately uninteresting if one is looking for clear villains to prosecute. It’s easier to latch onto supposed inefficiency, featherbedding, and resistance to productive change as the primary causes of “skyrocketing” tuition than it is to examine the data carefully and dispassionately. Our position on the major drivers of college cost often makes the policy community uncomfortable because the levers they can pull to effect productive change are so weak, and because the natural tendency is to use the tools of command and punishment in an era of tight budgets. The major causal forces for affordability problems over the last decade are shortfalls in state funding of higher education and rising income inequality in the United States, not frivolous amenity competitions among universities or wasteful faculty research. In this light, as policymakers consider their options, I would suggest that we adopt a higher education version of the Hippocratic Oath. First, do no harm.