Martin Center president highlights book on college’s ills

Jenna Robinson’s latest Martin Center column focuses on an unintended negative impact of higher education.

There is general agreement among higher education observers and reformers that tuition and fees at public universities have increased at an unsustainable pace. It’s equally uncontroversial to note that financial aid hasn’t kept up with unrelenting tuition increases, leaving students in the lurch.

In his new book, “The Impoverishment of the American College Student,” James V. Koch lays out exactly how bad it has been—and how we got to this point. The book is extremely detailed and heavy on data. Koch brings together the latest and most relevant academic research on college costs. It’s a welcome new tool to help make informed policy decisions that address the real problem of college costs.

Koch starts by describing the dismal landscape of college costs. He cites some alarming statistics. Published tuition and fees for in-state students increased from $7,470 in 1997-1998 to $20,770 in 2017-2018. From June 2000 to June 2016, the increase was 184 percent—almost double the increase in the cost of medical care.

Those increases in tuition and fees have far outpaced increases in wages, making it more difficult for low-income and middle-income families to afford college. (I think “impoverishment” is perhaps too strong a word, but the problem is certainly a serious one.) …

… He says, forthrightly, that “[t]oo many institutions of higher education have become grasping enterprises that operate primarily to further the interests of faculty and administrators…rather than those of students and citizens.” Tuition increases, for example, are a choice. Faculty and administrators keep demanding larger budgets, trustees vote for them, and students pay the price.

Some of the ways in which universities enrich themselves are easy to see and Koch highlights them in his analysis: an amenities “arms race,” rapid administrative growth, curricular bloat, and almost ubiquitous mission creep.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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