Finding the Value in College Affordability

Tim Goral's picture
Thursday, March 21, 2013

What's a college education worth these days?

Amid rising costs of tuition and an economy still rebounding from recession, higher education consumers and observers are increasingly asking that question -- and with good reason.

Since 1978, according to a Bloomberg report at the start of the current academic year, costs of tuition and fees at colleges and universities have increased more than 1,100 percent -- "four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index."

In his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama warned against "skyrocketing costs (that) price way too many young people out of a higher education, or saddle them with unsustainable debt" while asserting that "taxpayers cannot continue to subsidize the soaring cost of higher education." He proposed changes in the Higher Education Act "so that affordability and value are included in determining which colleges receive certain types of federal aid."

I would respond that no one is more concerned about "affordability and value" than we leaders of our nation's colleges and universities. It is precisely those factors that have diminished consumer confidence in the investment required today for a four-year college degree. More to the point, it is consumers' perceptions of affordability and value that keep many college presidents awake at night. "If you build it, they will come" is no longer a viable marketing strategy for engaging college high school seniors and their families in the process of applying and enrolling at a traditional campus.

Although the evidence remains compelling that an individual's career earning power, fitness for leadership, and adaptability to global citizenship continue to benefit substantially from attaining a college or university degree, Americans do expect value for their tuition dollar. That translates into the expectation that successful completion of an undergraduate course of study is a given, that it will lead to successful and lucrative entry into the job market, and that it will impart the necessary skills for lifelong learning and continued personal marketability.

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