The Cost of Higher Education

by John Holbo on October 24, 2012

This one is always good for an argument.

Suppose you wanted to go live at a luxury resort for four years. You’d expect that to cost, wouldn’t you? (No one is going to write an editorial raging about how if you wanted to live at Club Med it would cost you at least $50,000 a year – probably more.) So why are people surprised that it costs a lot – really a lot – to send a kid to college for four years? College is the sort of thing that seems like it should cost a lot: beautiful buildings on nice land, nice gym, nice green spaces, expensive equipment, large staff that have to be well-paid because they provide expert services. If you want to be puzzled about something, figure out how and why it was ever cheap, not why it costs now.

But this thought that colleges and universities are like luxury resorts, so of course it costs, is not very comforting to apologists for the cost of higher ed. Four years of resort living does not sound like a model that can, in fact, be available to everyone. If the democratic dream is that every kid can go to college, and if the dream of college is that every college kid can live for four years in the equivalent of an expensive resort, then the dream dies.

[UPDATE: It seems my Club Med analogy has been misunderstand, and that is understandable. I’m not suggesting that colleges are literally like Club Med any more than I am suggesting that Club Med has a university library, just because it costs as much as college. I am just suggesting that we should see it as normal and to be expected that if you go and live somewhere that provides you with a lot of stuff, much of which you would expect to be costly, you should expect it to cost you.] [click to continue…]