Universities are Ripping Off Americans

Universities are Ripping Off Americans

During the last election, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton led the charge, calling for free universal higher education for everyone. They called it a human right and decried the fact that upon graduation millions of Americans who now enroll are saddled with thousands of dollars of college debt upon graduation, weighing them down for years, sometimes decades.

The argument that unlimited access to higher education is a right that every American should enjoy is a separate and very political matter for discussion at another time.

What is far more compelling and immediate is the fact that higher education costs have skyrocketed in recent years, are ridiculously and irresponsible high, and are continuing to increase annually unabated and way above annual, national cost of living increases. Pricing by higher education (public as well as private) is a rip off of huge proportions. And the institutions are the perpetrators.

Average tuition and room and board this year, 2016-2017, is around $30,000 for 4-year public institutions, $62,000 for ordinary private institutions and $71,500 for elite private colleges and universities. And, that is the average. Costs are significantly higher still at the better 4-year private colleges and at the very best elite institutions. We are coming very close to reaching and exceeding $100,000 per annum.

These figures are simply ridiculous. Universities are a monopoly and they are reaping huge profits to the detriment of the very people they claim to serve. Coincidentally, they are also legally defined as “non-profit institutions.” What a joke!

Of course, government provides subsidies to the poorest and loans to many others. But as costs rise exponentially year after year, tax-payer funded government expenditures increase dramatically, as does student loan debt. In fact, at current prices, student loans have already become lifetime burdens for many.

Universities control access and, thus, have infinite opportunities to increase charges at will. And, they do, recognizing that government will shell out directly and through loans for many and that consumers will pay almost any amount for their children.

The prices they charge are extraordinarily high under any scenario. If they were the very best of institutions and delivered superb results, they would still be cheating Americans. But, they are, every one of them, decidedly poor at what they do and how they do it. In a subsequent article I will show how far they miss the mark on educating young people and providing the skills required for men and women of the 21st Century.

For the moment, let me suggest that universities never will get better at what they do on their own and never will bring costs in line with what is appropriate without some dramatic challenge by their most important constituency. A total and sustained boycott by students and parents, lasting a year or longer, is the only action that is likely to force these institutions to act responsibly. So, take a year or two off after high school and force America’s colleges and universities substantially to lower tuition and fees and to hold the line on increases for at least a decade out.

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Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.

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