Much of what is written about colleges and universities ties rapidly rising tuition to dysfunctional behavior in the academy. Common targets of dysfunction include prestige games among universities, gold plated amenities, and bloated administration. This book offers a different view. To explain rising college cost, the authors place the higher education industry firmly within the larger economic history of the United States. The trajectory of college cost is similar to cost behavior in many other industries, and this is no coincidence. Higher education is a personal service that relies on highly educated labor. A technological trio of broad economic forces has come together in the last thirty years to cause higher education costs, and costs in many other industries, to rise much more rapidly than the inflation rate. The main culprit is economic growth itself.

This finding does not mean that all is well in American higher education. A college education has become less reachable to a broad swathe of the American public at the same time that the market demand for highly educated people has soared. This affordability problem has deep roots. The authors explore how cost pressure, the changing wage structure of the US economy, and the complexity of financial aid policy combine to reduce access to higher education below what we need in the 21st century labor market.

This book is a call to calm the rhetoric of blame and to instead find policies that will increase access to higher education while preserving the quality of our colleges and universities.

Author Biographies

David H Feldman

I teach in the economics department at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. My         coauthor, Robert Archibald, and I have been thinking and writing about higher education issues for over a decade. This provocatively titled book represents the current fruits of that effort. We have designed it to be accessible to a general audience, not just an academic one. We think anyone who has been to college, who has a relative or child who aspires to go to college, or who is just plain interested in the debate about the cost of higher education, will find something of interest in this book. Our take on the subject may intrigue you. It may enlighten you. It may infuriate you. But I doubt it will leave you feeling indifferent. Enjoy.

My childhood was spent in south Florida. After high school, I wandered off to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where I thoroughly enjoyed the small-college, liberal arts education that I received from the very dedicated teacher scholars at that school. I then spent four years at Duke University completing my M.A. and Ph. D. in economics. I wrote my thesis in International Economics under professor Edward Tower. Much of my earlier research work was in the fields of international trade and economic development. And some of my future work may well return to these themes.

I have taught at William & Mary since 1989. Before that I taught at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. I live in Williamsburg, Virginia with my wife Susan and our two sons.

My eldest son is in the final throes of the college application process, so I now have some hard-earned experience in this area!

You can learn more about me and my work by checking my web page at:



Robert B. Archibald

Robert B. Archibald is Chancellor Professor of Economics at the College of William and Mary. He was born in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. At age two he tagged along with his family as they moved to Oklahoma, and at age ten he accompanied them to Arizona. He was graduated from the University of Arizona in 1968. After serving in the Army in Vietnam, he attended graduate school at Purdue University. He finished his doctoral work as a Baker-Weeks Fellow at the Brookings Institution in 1974. His first job was as an economist in the Research Division of the Office of Prices and Living Conditions at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1976 he took a position in the economics department of the College of William and Mary. At various times at William and Mary he has served as the chair of the economics department, director of the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy, interim dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, president of the Faculty Assembly, and faculty representative on the Board of Visitors, the school’s governing board. Professor Archibald is married and has two adult children.

Professor Archibald’s current research focuses on the economics of higher education. His first book, Redesigning the Financial Aid System: Why Colleges and Universities Should Switch Roles with the Federal Government, was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2002. In the last 10 years he and his colleague David Feldman have engaged in a long and fruitful collaboration. Together Professors Archibald and Feldman have published a number of research papers, policy analyses, and opinion articles on higher education issues. Their current book, Why Does College Cost So Much? published by Oxford University Press summarizes the findings of this research.

Unlike much of the work on higher education economics, Why Does College Cost So Much? focuses on factors higher education shares with other industries rather than suggesting that colleges and universities are somehow special or different. This explanation shows that economy-wide factors are largely responsible for what has happened to college costs and prices since World War II. It leaves little room for the dysfunctional behaviors at colleges and universities often highlighted in other accounts of rising higher education costs.