college costs, then and now…

So I was discussing the cost of attending college with a friend of mine a while back, and it occurred to me that few people ever look at it the right way.  There are all kinds of statistics about current costs vs. prices from decades ago—adjusted for inflation, not adjusted, or simply made up numbers that seem real.  I was left with the question:  How do I make a cogent argument in a debate with a right-winger who thinks costs are out of control, but also doesn’t think the government should do anything about it?

Here’s what I came up with:

College Cost Chart

That, there, is a chart showing how long I had to work at the 1984 minimum wage to pay for a six-hour summer session compared to how long I would have to work under the 2011 minimum wage to pay for the cost of the same summer session at current prices.  I have not adjusted wages for inflation, because it is not necessary.  It’s all about buying power with the money you have at the time.

Telling, isn’t it?

Back then I paid for a full summer session (tuition, fees, and books) with about a week’s worth of work at a minimum wage job.  I just wrote a check and called it a day.  Today I would have to work the same job at today’s minimum wage for nearly nine weeks in order to pay the cost of a summer session.

Open Quote Mark graphic

As tuition rises, the road to higher education in America gets steeper and harder to climb for lower and middle-income families.Andres Avila

There are a lot of reasons for this, and your mileage may vary, but this is the reality facing today’s college students.  And that’s just for a summer session.

There was a time here in the Great State of Texas that the legislature covered a large portion of college tuition.  They saw it as an investment in the future of the state.  Those days are long gone, and the death spiral coincides with the hijacking of state government by Republicans.  Investment is a dirty word to them… it’s all about profit and loss.  Every dime they can squeeze out of a school’s budget is a profit, while all investment in education is labeled a loss.

The true loss for the state is the amount of productivity young graduates give up chasing their college debt.

Oh yeah… I graduated debt free.  No scholarships.  All three degrees.

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4 thoughts on “college costs, then and now…

  1. Henshaw September 11, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    It’s worth noting that not all the news is bad:

    Calculations show that the average gain in earnings during the past 30 years has exceeded the rise in tuition, so that the average rate of return on graduating from college has greatly increased, despite the large growth in tuition.

    I’m 34 and graduated from college 11 years ago. I just paid my loans off last year. It’s also worth noting that when the state heavily subsidizes tuition it causes inflation. It’s similar to printing money in that aspect.

    • clancyweeks September 11, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      The state of Texas subsidized the cost of college at a much higher rate than it does now for decades, but the inflated costs are a relatively recent event. Why was there no inflation in tuition cost then? Why not when college was paid for by the GI Bill?

      And, actually, in constant dollars earning potential has in reality fallen behind the curve on tuition increases. When you factor in interest on student loans, it almost doesn’t equal an advantage at all.

  2. ryan59479 September 11, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I don’t know how much of an impact these two factors have in the rise of tuition, but I’m sure they do influence rising costs: athletics programs and a top heavy administration.

    Multimillion dollar stadiums, remodels, six figure salaries for coaches, scholarships that need to be subsidized somehow…it all seems to be skyrocketing, and ultimately serves zero purpose with regard to education.

    Also, I don’t know exactly how many assistant deans or executive comptrollers a school needs, but I’m pretty sure that most colleges have way more than they need.

    I do agree with you that there’s been a push away from education as an investment for society and a swing toward the “for profit = better” model of operation. I’m not exactly sure what the solution to our educational woes are, though, since it appears that Americans have been brainwashed into believing that government always ruins everything it touches.

    • clancyweeks September 11, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      In very large and successful programs, athletics are a net financial plus for the university. For the other 90% of schools, the student body subsidizes the program through hefty fees.

      I agree that too much dead weight at the top of the org chart contributes to costs, but the real culprit is reduced funding by state governments. The same reduced funding by the state led to huge local tax increases here in Texas in the 1980’s.

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