What’s Really Behind the Soaring Tuition at Brick-and-Mortar Colleges

Feb 7, 2012 by Tom Dellner

Soaring tuition costs and college affordability were featured topics in President Barack Obama’s recent State of the Union address. The cost of attending college has risen by nearly 500 percent in the last 25 years, according to recently published report from inflationdata.com. That’s well over 2.5 times the rate of inflation! So it’s no surprise that the issue is high on the President’s agenda. Also unsurprising was the reaction from university presidents and administrators.

The position of many state colleges and universities is that cutbacks in funding are forcing their hands. As state funding is reduced, the institutions have no choice but to raise tuition if they want to maintain education quality and student services, the argument goes.

Dr. Steve PerryDr. Steve Perry—one of the most brilliant and bold minds in education today, founder and principal of the innovative and wildly successful Capital Prep Magnet School in Hartford, and CNN’s chief education contributor—is not sympathetic with the traditional schools’ claims. He made an interesting point during a recent CNN interview, one that shifts most of the responsibility for sky-rocketing tuition back to the universities themselves. And his point has application to all traditional universities, not just state-sponsored institutions.

Dr. Perry points to an even more significant contributor to the cost of traditional higher education, one that the universities don’t like to discuss. According to Dr. Perry, it’s the competitive forces in higher education that are primarily to blame. In order to attract students (and their tuition dollars) to their campuses and away from their rivals', colleges and universities are pouring money into building new dorms with all the comforts of home—and then some. They’re developing athletic facilities that are nothing short of world-class. Constant enhancements to the physical plant are being made. Having all the latest high-tech amenities is merely table stakes in this brutally competitive world.

We’ll let the traditional institutions fight these battles. Online higher education is competitive, too, of course. But we trust that offering the highest quality education possible at a reasonable cost is a philosophy that will continue to appeal to adult learners worldwide.

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