Stalling The Runaway Costs of Free College

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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164 Responses

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    I like the idea of $x for tuition, and not a penny more. The real issue with college remains, though, that the customer has poor visibility on value, and no way to recover if the school is a scam or other sh*tshow.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      This is one of the reasons I’m uncomfortable with the loan situation. A payor that’s on the hook for a certain amount of money (<= $X) is going to be in a better position to both absorb the occasional failing student and be in a better situation to track how institutions perform.

      It also means there will be less money just sloshing around to be absorbed by capital improvements, Deputy Advisers to the Assistant Dean of Deputy Advising, and the like.

      Far from perfect, but it has numerous advantages over the current system, and it's relatively straightforward and intelligible.Report

  2. Chip Daniels says:

    I think it is interesting that this Money Supply theory- “If the money is provided, the price will be raised to absorb it” assumes that all colleges, whether private for-profit, private nonprofit, public government run- will react exactly alike, like efficient market-clearing private businesses.

    Yet it is a staple belief among market enthusiasts that government run entities don’t do this. It is assumed that government run entities fail to sense price signals, and instead keep offering products that no one wants, at prices that don’t reflect the demand.

    And further- is there a historical correlation at government run universities between “providing the money” with “raising the tuition”?

    Like, in previous decades when tuition was effectively zero, wasn’t government by definition providing “all” of the money, without regard to market pricing signals?

    Why then, didn’t costs spiral out of control then, like the theory suggests they should have?

    I still don’t know why tuition is going up so fast, but the Money Supply theory seems unpersuasive.Report

    • Cut off the loans and I am confident prices will fall. It wouldn’t be worth the trade-off but it would happen. So it’s a component of the problem. As is tuition deregulation. The combination of the two has been particularly bad.

      My understanding, at least, is that (among other things) states used to keep tighter controls on tuition rates. I remember the undoing of that when I was a kid. Schools where along for and receiving more latitude.

      That worked until it didn’t. Some states started loosening up then other states started doing the same so their schools could keep up.

      Undoing that would be one way of doing cost control, but I don’t think that can be done with the big schools, which is why I focus on the others. I don’t think regulating tuition like we used to is a possibility, but I think we can do something similar through finding.


      • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

        Given that the tuition rate for state universities is literally controlled by a bunch of bureaucrats, and always has been, doesn’t it seem like less a function of money supply and more a function of administration?

        And why is regulating tuition dismissed as a possibility?Report

        • Because nobody wants their college to fall behind and that’s what would happen. The deregulation happened so State schools could keep up with private schools, then filtered down so that state schools could complete with other states schools. Has it never happened the gap between public and private in terms of perception would be a lot larger. “State school” would be increasingly seen as community colleges are now.

          In retrospect I think that would have been a price worth paying, so to speak. Though I can see why they (red state and blue, liberal and conservative) did what they did. Too late now, though. I spend a lot of time thinking about this and yet I don’t want *my* school falling behind.


          • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

            What would happen if they fell behind?

            Isn’t it also an assumed premise that there is this tremendous demand for college where everyone is beating down the doors to get in?

            So which is it, that colleges are desperate to attract students, or that students are desperate to get in?

            What would happen if we went back to the way things used to be, where UCLA was where working class kids went (because it was free) and USC was the University of Spoiled Children?Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

              I think it’s not that colleges are desperate to attract students, they are desperate to attract students who can pay the full fare. So the private schools want to attract the wealthy students away from the good state schools, and the good state schools want students who will pay out of state tuition, etc.

              If it was just a matter of putting butts in seats, none of the schools would have any trouble, even the really bad schools.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Come the Revolution, the taxpayers and citizens will seize command and control over the state run universities!

                Seriously, why are we treating government owned and operated universities like they are some independent entities that are free to act according to market incentives?Report

              • It’s very, very hard to convince colleges to accept their place. Hard to convince alums their school needs to accept their place. Hard to convince the populace that state universities as a whole need to accept their place.

                I don’t think the voters are willing to make the compromises required. Or, at least, aren’t enthusiastic enough to override university objections.

                It goes back to a more fundamental concern I have, which would undermine my plan and almost any other. What if we talk like college is too expensive but don’t actually believe it is? We certainly don’t *act* like it is. Not when we vote, not when we decide where to attend, and not when we evaluate cost against virtually any other tradeoff.

                Sometimes I think that’s the elephant in the room and the rest is just dressing. Which, if true, things are going to have to get a lot worse before they can get better.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

                I think you may be correct.

                Corporations demand a college degree for absurd things like receptionists and entry level jobs that have absolutely no need for it.

                Young people and their parents see the yawning gap between prospects for degree holders and non degree holders, and choose accordingly.

                Why are so many people behaving so absurdly?

                My theory, which I repeat incessantly, is that we live in a world of uncertainty, and constant wrenching disruption.

                There isn’t any apparent connection between working hard and being rewarded with a satisfying life.

                There isn’t anything which can provide a reasonable assurance of security, other than becoming a member of the 0.1%, in which case it becomes impossible to fail.

                In one sense, we are like primitive villagers who are subjected to volcanoes and droughts, and who respond by making an extraordinary investment in a prize bull to burn to appease the fickle gods, or in a darker moment, accuse the group of immigrants of bringing bad luck.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “There isn’t any apparent connection between working hard and being rewarded with a satisfying life.”

                How are you defining ‘working hard’? Because if I go by the most straightforward definition, those days are gone, and honestly they never existed for the majority of the population.

                I’d say we need a new paradigm, one that says nothing about ‘working hard’, and rather says we need to ‘working smart’, that you need to develop skills that allow for a wide range of employment opportunities, and then learn how to leverage those skills in the current market.

                We REALLY need to stop pretending that the 50’s/60’s era dynamic of working for one specific company from entry to retirement is some norm to strive for in order to access the middle class. It’s nice if you can get it, but there aren’t enough jobs like that to go around, and there never were, and there never will be.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                And suppose one does that, will there be some assurance of living a middle class life where you can safely take out a 30 year loan, confident you will actually have a job for those 30 years?

                Or should we adopt the pre-war, pre-New Deal mentality where one never should go into debt, since the future was wildly chaotic and unpredictable?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Or you just learn to live with risk and plan accordingly.

                You keep acting as if there is some right to be able to have a middle class lifestyle without any effort or worry other than what you find at the office/plant.

                That’s BS, it has ALWAYS been BS for most people, and you and anyone else who bemoans that fantastical state of affairs need to cut that out.

                Your whole generation got lucky, and got lazy. Stop telling everyone else that they should be able to win the economic lottery just because you did.

                And honestly, our country would be more than a bit better off if people weren’t so keen to finance everything on debt that they hope to be able to pay off (rather than having a plan and the means to pay off).Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                That’s exactly what I was telling those coal miners, that they should stop sniveling and learn to code.
                Then they went and elected Trump.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                New coal mine is opening up around here, do you want me to forward you the contact information so you can tell your coal-mining friends?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to PD Shaw says:

                If they don’t serve avocado toast in the breakroom with a shuffleboard, then my friends will pass.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                No shifting the goalposts. Older coal miners (and the like) finding their industries crashing out (and who are geographically sticky) is a different problem from young people finding their imagining (of what a middle class lifestyle entails*) out of their reach.

                Two different problems, don’t conflate the two. The only place they could intersect is if your coal miners are getting BAs and whining about how they can’t get a job except waiting tables.

                Besides, my point was not, “lurn 2 code!”, it was that our economy has shifted, whether we like it or not, and it is possible to be successful in the economy, if you discard the notion that employment should be relatively static and secure.

                And that such notions were always false to begin with (just ask anyone in those good, safe, union jobs about the latest round of layoffs; or ask anyone in those communities who can’t get one of those Union jobs just how safe and secure their lives are).

                *And lets keep in mind that ‘Middle Class’ is essentially void for vagueness. One persons ‘middle class’ is another’s ‘dirt poor’ and someone else’s ‘well off’.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                How are they two different problems, when you yourself tie them together by acknowledging that our economy has shifted to a place where the only constant is upheaval and disruption?

                Ultimately what you are saying is that this isn’t a structural problem amenable to government action, but a personal behavior problem, where people just have to behave differently.

                They should adapt, you are saying, and should change and adjust their expectations and to stop being angry and measuring themselves by a standard that can never again happen.

                But whether we are admonishing a 50 year old steelworker to learn to code or a 20 year old to forget about a lifetime job, the same thing applies, is that this is an astonishing request!

                Think about how radical this is for society.

                How much of modernity since the Industrial Revolution was an attempt to produce stability and safety and reduce risk and upheaval.

                Things like mortgages and central banking and insurance; things like the nuclear family instead of the extended clan. Even things like the freedom to marry who you want or choose your career.

                These are things that are threatened by too much volatility and risk.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                I specifically did not tie them together, because coal miners are not, by and large, learning to code, or otherwise going back to school in order to change careers. Nor are a large number of industrial workers. Perhaps that is due, in large part, to the cost of education, but I also suspect a lot of the reluctance to return to school is personal (they are not academically inclined, they are geographically sticky) and/or structural (they have no idea how to navigate the academic system and find a school to meet their wants/needs).

                As to the rest of your point, volatility and risk are things which need to be managed and planned for. This has always been the case, but we had quite a few good decades there where we were helping to rebuild the world, where a lucky segment of the population could neglect that part of life to a degree.

                I’m not asking people to stop measuring themselves by some previous, but reasonable standard. I’m saying that people need to stop pretending that was ever a reasonable standard. It’d be like everybody today wanting to have that sweet Wall Street job making upper six to lower seven figures in bonuses every year. It’s an unreasonable standard to expect. Always was, always will be.

                Might as well be bitching that we don’t have flying cars that fold down into a suitcase.

                But it persists, because it is a good story, and it’s a good story because it was not the norm.

                And this is the thing people need to remember. If it’s a good story, whether it’s the guy working from poverty to success, or disability to ability, or even just having a long, stable, relatively worry free life, it appeals because it’s not normal.

                And for your complaints, for every town with a factory and good, stable jobs with retirement plans, only a small percentage of the town ever enjoyed that story. Every one else enjoyed volatility and risk. Hell, even the people who did have the factory job, how many of them got to truly choose their career?

                And yet all those people, who endured volatility and risk, they somehow managed to marry, and have kids, etc.

                Neither my wife not I have EVER enjoyed a moment of life free from such volatility and risk. EVER! My parents were dirt poor and living hand to mouth in southern WI. Her family was ‘doing OK’, for northern WI (which means they had a small ranch or rambler and went out to eat once a week). Yet somehow we’ve managed to build a life with both of us having comfortable salaries.


                We manage risk and expectations. We don’t take on more than we can afford. The house is small, the cars are practical. We have multiple plans should one or both of use be unemployed for an extended period of time. We keep our luxuries low, and we know exactly what luxuries are first to go if we have to tighten our belts. And we always keep our resumes polished and up to date.

                We expect the world to involve risk and volatility. We plan for it. Thus we do not stress over it when it happens. And our lives are fantastically richer for it.Report

              • bookdragon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Amen and Amen.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                That’s my concern, is that we will move from a culture of risk-takers to risk-avoiders.

                Or worse, a culture of desperation, of ferocious fighting for the next-to-the-last rung on the socioeconomic ladder.

                Trump is a sign of that desperation and fear, as are Tiger moms, the rise of superstition like anti-vax and climate change denialism, and for that matter, NIMBYism and the dark pessimism that flares up whenever a big project like high speed rail and Green New Deal are proposed.

                I tie all these together as a collapse of faith in progress and the future. There is this refrain, that change is always bad and things can only get worse, that sounds very much like fatalistic medieval peasants.

                Because if you are a anyone younger than a Boomer, when have you ever seen a great new leap in collective action, like a moon landing or Interstate highway?

                Those were incredibly risky projects, but undergirded by a promise of a safety net, that failure would be cushioned by collective responsibility.

                Today, risk is rewarded with staggering loans which translate into serfdom.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                when have you ever seen a great new leap in collective action, like a moon landing or Interstate highway?

                The money for this sort of thing has been dedicated to entitlements. That’s the whole problem with collective action, the easiest thing to sell is “give me more benefits”.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                First off all, how do you find your way from the idea of understanding how to asses and manage risk to a culture of risk avoiders? Knowledge and practice increases our tolerance for risk, because we understand it better.

                The problem we have today is that we have multiple generations who do not understand risk, nor how to manage it. They don’t understand personal risk, financial risk, or collective risk. This is why we get crap like anti-vax, and GWOT/Patriot Act, and people who are just fine with police gunning down someone who ‘might have been reaching for a weapon, while wearing workout shorts, and crawling on the floor on his stomach’, etc.

                It also means we have people taking on financial risk they shouldn’t because they’ve all been fed a stack of lies regarding how one gains entry to the middle class and beyond. They all believe there is but one true path to success, and anyone who gets there some other way is an anomaly.

                Fear exists because risk is not understood, not because risk exists.

                That said, yes, anything the government can do to mitigate risk helps. However, perhaps you’ve noticed that while our bureaucracy has some efficiency with regard to helping manage risk, our politicians are complete shit at it, and (IMHO) intentionally misrepresent risk in order to provoke fear and garner more power to themselves. Hell, as far as I’m concerned, Unions tried the same thing and have paid for it (probably because Unions were trying to incite fear against an entity that could coordinate a response).

                So yeah, there is a loss of faith in risky things, because we don’t understand the risk, because the people who should be helping us understand it are as often as not working hard to make sure we can’t (depending on the political alignment with regard to the topic at hand).Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Isn’t the very problem this post identifies (runaway college costs) an example of how people are managing risk?

                That is, anxious parents and students are spending wildly on education as the golden ticket to the good life.

                And that is a perfectly reasonable response, if we accept the underlying premises.

                I just don’t see why we should. Its not that we can completely avoid risk, but do we need to accept it to the scale and intensity we have now?

                Like, we can’t temper job displacement with some form of UBI?

                We can’t cushion unemployment with health insurance and free college?Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Like, we can’t temper job displacement with some form of UBI? We can’t cushion unemployment with health insurance and free college?

                I suspect increasing unemployment insurance, or even job displacement insurance, would be wildly less expensive.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                There is more than one ‘perfectly reasonable’ way to mange risk. As a matter of fact, there are multiple ways to manage such risk that don’t involve going into massive amounts of debt.

                If you are managing risk by exposing yourself to greater risk, I wonder if you understand the risk you are trying to manage?

                Unless, of course, you aren’t actually trying to manage risk, but rather managing social signalling…

                As for the UBI, I do believe I am on board with that. One need not preclude the other.Report

              • InMD in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                I don’t think you’re wrong on most of this but I do think that you’re missing a major driver of economic fear, that being just how far our system allows people to fall, how many holes there are in our safety net, and the widening between stairs on the class ladder.

                This doesn’t relieve people of responsibility for their own decision making, nor does it mean living within ones means, saving, discipline, and hard work are bad things. To the contrary they are good things and they should be encouraged. But they alone aren’t going to save people from health emergencies, blips in the housing market, and similar costs, market shifts, and the vagaries of job markets that are outside of the control of the individual.

                The idea that people need to be disciplined and open minded about how they pursue their fortunes and the idea that our system has some serious gaps that leave too many people living too precariously are not mutually exclusive.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to InMD says:

                I think the thing that is missing goes like this:

                1) ????
                2) Get a degree
                3) Profit!

                See point 1? That’s your plan. You have to have some kind of plan* for that degree. Preferably more than one plan. If you can’t come up with a plan, you probably should not go to school yet.

                Of course, colleges want kids straight out of HS. The whole admissions process is geared towards that.

                I didn’t have my plan out of HS. Cost me a semester of tuition to realize that, and to leave school until I had one.

                But instead we push this idea that we should get the kid into school, and hopefully in the first two years, they will come up with a plan.

                And as I said to Chip, I’m onboard with a UBI.

                *My wife pursued a history degree as an undergrad. Her advisor, in a moment of rare honesty, told her that she needed to have a plan, because no one got a job with a History degree anymore. He told her, if she really loved History, and wanted to be an academic, she could pursue the PhD, but needed to realize that she’d be competing with hundreds, maybe thousands of History PhDs for every academic position that came open. She’d have more luck getting a Professional/Masters degree (she got the MS Library degree) and working with that.Report

              • beelzebob in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Somehow you need to share your advice with these folks; “Fed Survey: 40% of Americans Can’t Afford $400 Emergency.” Perhaps there could be other forces at play hindering financial planning?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to beelzebob says:

                What part of “I grew up dirt fecking poor” did you miss?Report

              • Ozzy! in reply to beelzebob says:

                I was always confused by this bullet point you quoted. I mean, many people experience $400 or more accidents every day. Thousands, maybe hundereds of thousands in the US alone. Any car accident. Any injury requiring 2 days off (at minimum wage). Any trip more than a single day would qualify for this metric. Any trip to the ER.

                It doesn’t pass the smell test to me.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Ozzy! says:

                It doesn’t pass the smell test to me.

                It shouldn’t. It’s a politically done mis-statement. Quoting link below (which in turn quotes the original survey):

                The question was about how people would choose to pay a $400 “emergency expense” — not whether or not they could pay it out of savings (or checking) if they wanted to. Respondents were also free to choose more than one way of paying the extra $400 (“please selects all that apply”), so the answers add up 143% rather than 100%. Even if 100% said they could pay an extra $400 with cash, there could still be more than 40% who would choose a different method.

                It turns out that 86% would pay cash or charge it and then pay off the bill at the next statement (many consumers autopay credit card bills from checking accounts). Some (11%) said they might borrow some or all of it from a friend or family member, but that probably means a spouse or parent in most cases (respondents included full-time students).


                The more relevant question is below, i.e. “How would a $400 emergency expense that you had to pay impact your ability to pay your other bills this month” (14% would make a partial payment or juggle bills or something) and even that doesn’t really work because if you’re already juggling bills then $400 isn’t anything new.

                We also have the usual survey problem of wondering if the bottom 10% are pranking you or understand questions because you can ask people if they’ve ever been decapitated and you’ll get “yes” some of the time and it gets really bad if you’re asking personal questions.Report

              • Ozzy! in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Thanks – I was too lazy to dig into it, but it is such a stupid statement I felt it needed to be refuted by someone.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                The problem is that things move very. very fast now. People need to be more adaptable and give themselves more options for a long work career.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                PS This evenings Fresh Air is enlightening.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Corporations demand a college degree for absurd things like receptionists and entry level jobs that have absolutely no need for it.

                I want our receptionist to be as competent as possible, ideally smart enough that she can move up. I also need her to show up on time, be organized, etc.

                A college degree, in anything, is a very strong signal of that. Everyone remembers High School. Everyone remembers kids who you really wouldn’t want being the first impression of your company who managed to get a degree anyway.

                We watered down the signal HS gives by insisting that everyone get a degree. Now if we went back to High School creating a strong signal, i.e. losers got thrown out, then we’d see it used for job placement and not College placement.Report

            • I said what would happen: Public schools would, over time, become viewed as increasingly inferior to private schools. That’s the tradeoff. You might think it an acceptable tradeoff. I might think it’s an acceptable tradeoff*. The schools and their alumni will fight it, though, and they will win.

              So what would happen is that it wouldn’t happen. My plan is geared towards accommodating UCLA because of the political realities. If I wasn’t worried about political realities, I would be advocating a different plan entirely.

              * – I mention that I don’t want my school to fall behind and that’s true. However, I am fine with it as part of a broader overhaul in which all public schools are under the same constraints. Where I tend to become a partisan for my school is when it comes to losing ground against its public school peers. It’s not very public-spirited of me, but I don’t want *my school in particular* to have to take one for the team. But UCLA folks don’t just not want to fall (further) behind Berkeley… they don’t want to fall behind USC either.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

                You may be correct, that the University/Alumni Axis of Evil will fight and win.

                But then that sort of makes broad assumptions about the body politic.

                It assumes that the political pressure to lower college costs is weaker than the U/A Axis, which is to say that the status quo is acceptable to at least a working plurality of people, or at least less painful than fighting the Axis powers.

                And I put this in the same category as “we can’t have nice things because Americans are too stupid/ evil/ incompetent/selfish”, sort of a bizarre Upside Down World version of American Exceptionalism.

                Not that its wrong! It could be entirely true!

                We know from history that many societies become broken, unable to cooperate on even simple tasks, and terrible things result.

                I just think that that statement itself becomes a better definition of the problem to be solved.Report

              • We’re not willing to accept the compromises other countries make. In terms of amenities, competition, and inclusiveness (ie excluding people from the college track the way most countries do).

                I will say, though: At least when it comes to universities, we do have nice things. This is one area where it’s different from our health care situation: Our universities are better, and do serve parts of the population that other countries don’t let attend school.

                So we do have that going for us. It’s just that we’re paying a lot for it.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Will Truman says:

                We’re not willing to tolerate high unemployment (and the welfare state that will go with it), and a decade plus of labor market slack combined with an existing mythology that college is the key to upward class mobility creates a ton of demand, and that demand is further inflated by the way our loan market works.

                There are a lot of problems, but at least one of them is that a lot of-prospective employers have inflated expectations for post-secondary education, which means more people want (or need) degrees, which inflates employer expectations….Report

              • Will Truman in reply to pillsy says:

                I have another post where I am going to talk about slack, credential inflation, and so on. Stay tuned!Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

                Why is the marketplace not disciplining the corporations for creating silly and arbitrary requirements?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Probably because there are enough people who meet these silly and arbitrary requirements for corporations to have them. And, let’s face it, these same people are in debt because they had to meet the requirements.

                At this point, the argument “you shouldn’t have your job, someone less qualified (on paper) should have it!” is a difficult one to get off the ground.

                To be quite honest, I’d be interested in seeing you make it and seeing if you could pull it off.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                I’m more interested in why there is so much surplus labor, that the marketplace can accept silly and arbitrary requirements.

                One would think that with historic low levels of unemployment, this wouldn’t happen.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Well, I know that many companies have bragged about using the silly and arbitrary requirements as a way to game the H1B Visa program.

                So that’s one answer.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Because there’s so much competition for jobs that they’re very cheap, if you will.

                And because a lot of employers see at least a small marginal benefit for employees who have the credentials. I’m not sure I’d describe the requirements as “silly and arbitrary” so much as overkill, or frills (and those “frills” if you will may be a benefit to the hiring manager or HR department, not the business as a whole).Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to pillsy says:

                And why is there so much competition for jobs, in a world of 4% unemployment?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Because positional goods are the only goods worth having.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Which is the “positional good”?

                The college degree demanded by the employer, or the temp receptionist gig that pays minimum wage?

                And to address my point-
                Why can’t the applicant just tell the employer to suck it up and be grateful for getting any applicants at all?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Both of them are.

                Why can’t the applicant just tell the employer to suck it up and be grateful for getting any applicants at all?

                Oh, my goodness, let me answer this one quickly.

                The applicant can.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                That isn’t what the market tells us.

                No one is behaving as they are supposed to, in a world of 4% unemployment and (so I’m told) rising wages.

                Everyone is behaving as if that temp gig on Taskrabbit is the only thing standing between them and life on the streets.

                And no one can seem to explain why.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                That isn’t what the market tells us.

                If wages are rising, why isn’t that what the market is telling us?

                Why isn’t rising wages an indicator of people saying “suck it up and be grateful you got any applications”?Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

                One of my stock phrases has been “I’ll believe there’s a labor shortage when employers act like there’s a labor shortage.”

                Wages are going up, credential requirements (including degrees are going down.

                I think we actually have, if not a shortage, a tight labor market.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

                “I’ll believe there’s a labor shortage when employers act like there’s a labor shortage.”

                When employers are screaming for more H1B visas and for immigration to loosen up, that’s *KIND OF* an action that indicates a handful of things?Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, it’s a way for employers to make sure there will be no labor shortage.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

                Is this a long trend, or a statistical blip?

                Because if it really is a long term trend, then that right there is the answer to college tuition.

                When young people are able to find well paying jobs without a silly diploma, it will effectively cut off the money supply to universities.Report

              • My guess is that it’s not permanent. Fingers crossed, though. I’m enjoying the shoe being on the other foot.

                I do remember something similar when I lived out west. The Bakkan fields were full steam and a lot of kids at the high school I was subbing at planned to go out there after graduation. The school was freaking out about it because it wasn’t college.

                (Most of the ones I heard mention those plans were not grade-A college material.)Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

                How’d that work out for them, I wonder?

                No, I’m not being snarky. I would dearly love to see a world where non-college workers could find secure living wages enough to support a family.

                I just flash back to my 19 year old self, stacking boxes and making enough money to live like a prince, not realizing the factory was less than a decade away from being shipped to China.

                I’m glad I quit and went to college.Report

              • Honestly don’t know. Left the area.

                More abstractly, college is a really good idea for some people. It’s a bad idea for a lot of others. What I really don’t know is how it shakes out for those in between. Those on the border, neither obviously a good fit or a bad fit for college. When we talk about who should and shouldn’t be going, we need to look at those people instead of the aggregates.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                My favorite tow truck driver and repo man is making about $200K a year on average. A few months ago he repossessed a Bugatti Chiron that was in Cincinnati. His take on that one repo will probably top six figures, as the repo man gets 20% of the outstanding balance.

                But he’s a former Marine trained in multiple martial arts and suffering from a childhood brain injury that renders him unable to feel pain, and in part he does the job because he loves it when people pull guns on him or punch him in the face.Report

              • How’d that work out for them, I wonder?

                Things fluctuate, depending on the price of oil and other factors. Eg, if North Dakota ever gets serious about enforcing their gas flaring rules, drilling and jobs will decline because the costs to produce oil will go up significantly — gas treatment plants and collection pipelines will have to be built.

                The last I saw, the official North Dakota plan for infrastructure says that most of the jobs disappear by 2040 when the Bakken is largely played out. As a result, everyone is reluctant to put money into building schools, housing, etc.Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “Everyone is behaving as if that temp gig on Taskrabbit is the only thing standing between them and life on the streets.”

                Because that is the message that various media outlets hammer out on a nearly hourly drumbeat?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Its not true, then? Its some sort of false consciousness, a learned myth?

                The gap in prospects between college grads and non grads, that’s not true either?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                If you are acting as if you are one gig away from sleeping in the gutter, chances are you need to seriously examine your career plans, and your lifestyle choices.

                We always act as if these people who are in such desperate straits are victims of their environment, rather than architects of it. I don’t get why people are so quick to feel pity for struggling graduates, while just as quick to mock people who had their McMansion foreclosed on. Both are equally capable of putting themselves in situations that lead to bad places.

                And the gap is, more accurately, between those with marketable skills, and those without. A college degree is one way to acquire marketable skills, but not the only way, and it does not guarantee that a person is on one side of the gap or the other. It is, however, a very easily identifiable metric.Report

              • greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well huh…so kidney dialysis, chemotherapy and motorized wheelchairs ( and snow free sidewalks to drive them on) etc are not worth having.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Because so many of the jobs are gig economy bullshit, with bad pay, few benefits, and little security?Report

              • Oscar Gordon in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Because people aren’t complaining about the inflation of employment requirements nearly as much as they are complaining about the cost of college.

                How many people are going to openly bitch about how their dream job didn’t really require the BA the worked so hard to earn? Not to mention, now that you have whole generations who worked so hard to earn those degrees, they are going to actively resist allowing those jobs to go to un-degreed individuals, because doing so would cheapen the degree they had to earn.Report

              • George Turner in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                One of the problems Nolan Bushnell (of Atari) sees in going to online education is that the people conducting the job interviews have an expensive degree on their wall that represents a huge investment in the old system of credentialing.Report

            • To answer your question about whether it’s colleges looking for students or students looking to get into college, the answer is “Yes”.

              Schools are competing for the best students they can get. Students are competing to get into the best schools they can get into. It’s not especially complicated.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Some market enthusiasts do believe that?

      Once place I tend to think libertarian types are on solid ground is their general insistence on treating state officials and bureaucrats, and the like as actors with interests not so different from those of people working in the private sector. And there are lots of reasons university administrators would want to capture those funds, for their own salaries, for subordinates, for nicer facilities, and the like, alongside any elements of their university’s mission that’s made easier when they collect more money from students.

      (One of the things I find a bit tricky about this conversation is I am essentially, on a gut level, infinitely cynical about university administrators and have to force myself to consider they might have good faith reasons for doing what they do.)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to pillsy says:

        When I was in high school there was this competition where you were selling pens. You set your own price point, put money into R&D, and some computer formula told you how well you were doing. Far and away, the way to excel at the game was to charge as much as possible and put a lot of that money back into R&D. The worst thing to do was low-ball and compete on price.

        I think about that in these conversations. The incentive may not be profit, but nonetheless is towards building the best product possible and not to compete on price. Student loans and whatnot are not the cause of this (it’s human nature, I think, plus career incentives for those involved), but I do believe they are enabling it.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Your first paragraph and your second paragraph do not contradict each other, they reinforce each other.Report

    • James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      You are correct, in and of itself making finance more readily available would only drive up prices much if there were some constraint on increasing supply. Otherwise the extra financing would drive up prices in the short run, but that would attract new supply into the market increasing quantity supplied and decreasing prices.

      If the extra students cost more to educate, then prices might be higher than they were before the subsidy, but if students loans are driving up prices, than I submit there is some supply constraint that is the real culprit.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to James K says:

        How does this work, when the demand side (number of applicants), the supply side (number of professors) and liquidity (loans) are all controlled directly by government fiat?

        Why approach this as if it were a marketplace, when it is a Soviet tractor factory?Report

        • How is demand controlled by government fiat?Report

        • The supply part is kind of complicated. There is no shortage of overall supply. There is a shortage of desired spots, though, and there are limits to the degree the state can only scale that up so much.

          They can control price, as we discussed elsewhere, with the hazard being a gap between public and private provision. One thought I had this morning is that the government could trade lower tuition at public universities for offering less in the way of loans for private ones. That might put some pressure on private schools to keep tuition down. My guess, though, is that the students public schools are most concerned about losing are those that would have the least difficulty getting loans by other means.

          Which leaves us to the tradeoff previously mentioned: The tradeoff would be affordability for a more noticeable prestige gap between public and private universities.Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to Will Truman says:

            Hasn’t that prestige gap always been there?
            Weren’t public universities always considered lesser status than private ones?

            And even as a leftist in good standing, I’m struggling to see why that would even be a problem.Report

          • veronica d in reply to Will Truman says:

            That treats this topic as if it is about signalling and nothing but signalling. I’ll agree that the signalling part is important, and a big part of the attraction to universities these days (sadly). That said, the knowledge itself exists. It is, in a sense, the first order product of universities — or at least it should be. In any event, it’s there. If you learn multivariate calculus, you have learned that thing. If you can write solid code using advanced algorithms, you can do that. It doesn’t matter what your degree says. (For example, I don’t even have a degree, but I can do those things.)

            I assume it’s the same for the stuff you learn on the non-STEM side of the fence. Knowledge is knowledge. A knowledge of Milton is something that happens inside the student’s brain. Sure, a better university might have better professors. On the other hand, it might not.

            I mean actually better, in the sense of their skill in imparting knowledge. I don’t mean “better” in the sense of “a big name.”

            Will such students find employment, if the signal is everything?

            I don’t know, but if they cannot, our society is sick to a degree that this conversation is pointless. If we’re that broken, we might as well get drunk and watch it burn.

            I hope it is not that bad. I hope that having smart and skilled people will provide a natural drive to success, not just for them, but for the country as a whole.

            Teach people things. Teach them hard things. Make learning things as easy as we possibly can. The result is people with knowledge, and nothing is more valuable.

            Sure, signalling this and signalling that. Sure, people will invest a fuckton of stupid money to buy a big degree from an important school. Whatever. The fact that this matters means our society is sick.

            But the knowledge remains real, even when surrounded by sickness. We must have faith in that.Report

            • Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d says:

              I think the disconnect is the difference between having a career, and having an elite career. Getting the right degree from the right school can get you into the elite career, but it’s not a guarantee of that. Just like not having the elite degree is not necessarily a bar to the elite career.

              People need to stop pretending there are unsurmountable walls between these things, because there aren’t. At best, it’s a speed bump.Report

              • veronica d in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

                Well I know this: to become an engineer where I work doesn’t actually require school. I know this because of me. Although, to be honest, it was a much longer path for me than many of my coworkers, who went to a posh high school, graduated from an elite tech school, and then went right to “dream job.”

                Actually, I don’t envy them. I feel as if — it’s hard to explain. I’m just glad I got to see many sides of life, even if it sucked at the time.

                Note I said to become an engineer where I work. We also hire for normal “business-y” roles, such as recruiting and marketing and general management stuff. Here’s the thing: almost everyone I talk to in one of those roles when to Harvard or some shit like that.

                It’s a weird divide. For engineering, talent and skill wins. For business stuff, elite credentialism.

                It seems wrong to me.Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

                The people who “need” free college are not engineers.

                They’re the people whose parents sent them to college because it was a way of being In School for another four years, because neither the kids or the parents had any clue what to do without that structured context for their lives, and now they’re dozens of thousands of dollars in debt and they still don’t know what to do with themselves.

                That, or they’re the people who know damn well that they’re in the demographic that gets discriminated against, and that having-a-college-degree is about the only remaining legal form of discrimination, so they paid what it took to get the degree so that they could get any job, but the job they found doesn’t pay enough to cover what they paid to get it.

                Point being, “free college” doesn’t make sense to you because it isn’t for you.Report

              • veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:

                That makes sense.

                Well they could become engineers, or else find some kind of technical role.

                I get what you’re saying, but I don’t like “closing the book” on anyone’s potential. That said, yeah, few of these kids will grow up to work for {big tech}.

                My deeper point is, knowledge is knowledge, and while I cannot solve the “credentials” bullshit, except to support something like GBI to at least mitigate precarity, I stand firm that knowledge itself is a first order value, as are the skills that come from knowledge.

                I think trying to fix the “credentials” game by giving everyone credentials won’t work, precisely because the elite will just find a new set of bullshit signals. It’s a treadmill. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t think anyone does. It’s a trap. It’s a broken feedback loop. The “fix”, insofar as one exists, is cultural.

                Hey everyone! Stop being narcissistic!


                But fuck the signals. Teach the skills, by any means possible. Teach them for real. Teach them for free. Let’s have a population fill with people who know stuff and can do things.Report

          • dhex in reply to Will Truman says:

            Will –

            “The supply part is kind of complicated. There is no shortage of overall supply.”

            Ok so the short answer to this is that while it’s somewhat complicated, there are regional shortages of graduating high school students which cannot be easily remedied by many institutions. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are producing a lot fewer graduating seniors, while CA, TX, and FL are producing more.

            The picture gets more complicated when you consider which populations are graduating from which states; students’ ability to travel out of state; and their ability to afford out of state tuitions. (If you’re really interested, check out the projections at

            So the short version is there’s students but they’re not everywhere and not everyone wants to or can travel to an entirely different region. Furthermore, it’s harder to appeal to students from outside of your region as they won’t even have a background notion of your institution for the most part.

            Semi-related, but the international student market has been permanently damaged (and Canada has jumped into that gap very readily) by the last two years of both policy decisions and rhetorical stances by the current presidential administration. This has been and will continue to be murderous on small and mid-sized colleges.

            “How does this work, when the demand side (number of applicants), the supply side (number of professors) and liquidity (loans) are all controlled directly by government fiat?”

            Ok, so at least as phrased and with no additional context to draw upon, 1 is not correct, 2 is very much not correct, but 3 is almost entirely correct.Report

          • Dark Matter in reply to Will Truman says:

            It feels like less an issue with supply (we have more than a 3rd of the population getting a degree) and more of an issue with “3rd party pays”.

            There’s also big issues with signalling. College is the way to signal that I’m [whatever]. If everyone is doing that, then I need to spend more because I’m special.

            Some of this is trying to figure out a way to let the bulk of the population signal that they’re in the upper [X%] of the population. Throwing money at that will just burn money.

            If what we’re really interested in is making all this cheaper… make IQ tests mandatory, public, and let employers use them for employment.

            That reduces the entire college peacock to a several hour test(s), so you can claim you’re smart without needing to spend $50k. Where college imparts skills, then employers will still insist on degrees.Report

            • dhex in reply to Dark Matter says:

              1) signalling is a big thing for certain programs, but like…less than 5% of all higher education, public/private/for profit etc etc and so forth. maybe even 1%. simply not an issue compared to the requirement of a college degree for employment. like, not even in the same arena.

              it’s the lazy river of marginalrevolutionists, if you will.

              2) iq tests for employment is one of those “we gotta find a one size fits all solution to a really complicated problem” joints that probably makes sense on paper somewhere but would fall apart almost immediately given the cost of implementation, the cost of litigation, and the ridiculous handcuffing of enterprise that would result.

              if you hold that meyers briggs is horoscopes for expressive people on the internet to loudly proclaim their introvertcoolosity (as i do, get that woo woo garbage outta here you yutzes), mandatory iq tests would become the most hilarious of crippling boondoggles across so many lines you’d think it was graph paper.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to dhex says:

                …would fall apart almost immediately given the cost of implementation, the cost of litigation, and the ridiculous handcuffing of enterprise that would result.

                Implementation would be free compared to the cost of giving everyone 4 free years of college. It’s a test so it’s like $100 per person per try.

                I’m not sure what “handcuffing” means here, employers would be allowed to use it but hardly forced. I’m suggesting that to the point where college is used to signal intelligence, an IQ test would be a much cheaper substitute.Report

        • James K in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          It’s true that universities can control demand by raising entry standards. Are they actually doing that? If they don’t use their fiat to reduce demand, it doesn’t really matter if they can.

          As to why they might not, bureaucracies like money too. Administrators might want a larger revenue pool they can spend on their own pet projects, or governments might direct their universities to raise prices so as to reduce their funding, that way they have more tax money to spend on their pet projects.

          Also, just as an aside, I’m not saying that all the extra funding is in fact the reason prices are rising, merely that if it was there would need to be a supply constraint as well.Report

  3. George Turner says:

    Throwing more money at them will certainly not fix the problem because they’ll take the extra money and keep on billing the students and parents. Making more money available to each student is in large part what cause the problem, since the universities figured out how to suck up all the money they could. Competition wont’ fix the problem because competing for prestige, students, and grants was one of the big drivers of the problem in a system that sells a positional good – future income, social status, and power.

    What they’re selling is, in a way, the idea that the right school will make you smarter than the other kids. As a societal endeavor, that cannot work because there’s no way to make everybody smarter than everybody else.

    Making educational more accessible didn’t work either, because universities dumbed down many of the programs so average kids could pass, while workplaces responded to our anti-discriminatory legal environment by using college degrees as IQ tests. It’s become a bubble and we may have to let it burst.

    Some of the signs of the enormous profits show up in the same places they do with health care, which can also tap into a huge pool of money; constant construction of ever more ornate and elaborate buildings. The safest place to shield massive amounts of wealth is real estate. Universities don’t actually need to build marble temples to learning since a double-wide trailer makes a fine classroom, but a double-wide trailer is useless as a long-term real estate investment. So like Hollywood mansions, a campus is basically a tax shelters. Also like a Hollywood movie, the enormous size of the crew, many of whom don’t do much of anything, is a way to make expenses match income so that nobody at the IRS notices the obscene profits.

    Unfortunately, when society has a pressing problem we often turn to the learned academies for solutions. That’s not going to work when the academies are the problem we’re trying to fix.

    As an aside, a day or two ago there was an interesting study about how many books are being checked out of university libraries. At Yale, students are only checking out a third as many books as they did ten years ago, and at one of the prestigious Virginia universities (I forget which one), they’re checking out only a fourth as many books. This implies that a 2019 college graduate has only read as many books in college as a 2009 freshman or sophomore. Yet the Internet was a big thing by 2009, so I wonder how those library loans would compare to 1999 or 1989! It’s quite possible that smart phones are making us stupid.Report

    • …an interesting study about how many books are being checked out of university libraries. At Yale, students are only checking out a third as many books as they did ten years ago, and at one of the prestigious Virginia universities (I forget which one), they’re checking out only a fourth as many books.

      Some years back, the University of Denver moved their entire book stacks out of the library in order to repurpose the space. The stacks were placed in an off-campus warehouse somewhere in the metro area. To check out a book from the stacks, you place a request and can pick it up at the front desk two working days later. The undergraduates didn’t complain particularly; the faculty and graduate students howled, to no avail.

      As an alumni, I have lifetime borrowing privileges. Given the new setup, that’s not worth nearly as much now that the stacks are not physically available. My local library is a member of the same research network that DU is, so if I know exactly which book I need, it’s easier in practice to do an inter-library loan than it is to request the book directly.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    What is a college education *WORTH*?

    Let’s say it’s $X.

    Why shouldn’t people pay $X for a college education if it’s worth that?Report

    • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

      Worth to whom?Report

      • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

        Worth to the person paying for it.Report

        • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

          But the whole question here is who should be paying for it!Report

          • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

            I admit: if someone is paying for it herself, I feel a lot less invested in saying “you shouldn’t do that” than I do when I am told “oh, Jaybird, you’re going to be paying for it.”

            If I’m playing for it (or if we, as a society, are paying for it), I’d like the whole “College Experience” thing to be turned down to, oh, a 3 or so. The amount of partying that happens in the nerd dorms at the School of Mines (not the cool dorms, the nerd dorms). That’s the appropriate level of partying that I think that we, as a society, ought to be asked to participate in paying for. Like, kick them out of college if they’re found exceeding that more than once or twice.

            Accused of sexual assault? Wham. No more college degree. Accused of faking a sexual assault? Wham. No more college degree. Grades drop below a certain level? Wham. No more college degree.

            Also, we, as a society, should not be on the hook for bullshit degrees. You want to get a bullshit degree? Pay for it yourself.

            But I am 100% down with Society paying for Quality Degrees for students who manage to achieve a bare minimum standard of morality.Report

  5. Saul Degraw says:

    My undergrad advisor told me that his dad attended college with a suitcase or so worth of clothing and a typewriter. This was in the 1950s so just at the start of post War boom and with plenty of people remembering the privations of the Great Depression and rationing in WWII. Plus the fighting.

    Now we have more stuff and comfort. I think convincing a lot of people to go spartan for a few years is a tall order and outside of the memory of most of the people advocating for it as well.

    Just a thought. I also dissent from the idea that Spartan is character building.Report

    • I don’t think Spartan for the sake of Spartan is good but if reducing amenities as a part of cost control is what’s needed then I’m good with that.

      My goal is to have a low cost option. However that’s achieved (as long as the education is happening). If we have this option and people choose to take out loans instead, that’s on them.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Will Truman says:

        As far as I can tell, there used to be a local university in many cities that was known for educating the local kids from working class or moderate backgrounds. New York’s variant was the CUNY system and also NYU. SF was USF and San Francisco State.

        CUNY is still relatively affordable but the finances are a mess and so are the facilities. There was a famous story in The NY Times a few years ago on how everything is broken down at CUNY. This is a school where most students live at home and brown bag lunches. NYU was a pioneer of the if you charge more, they will come plan of action.

        USF went from teaching local kids (children of cops and firefighters) to chasing rich people from China and B minus rich kids from LA.Report

  6. dhex says:

    amenities are not the cost drivers that people believe they are. student instruction costs, administrative costs, compliance and reporting costs, operating facilities costs (particularly yearly maintenance for buildings), and reduced state support (for state unis/cc’s), etc.

    but this is a complicated story, not a “dang lazy rivers” story, and the lazy rivers story works so well for so many comers that its utility far outstrips its reality.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to dhex says:

      I actually tend to agree. I think it’s a factor but not the driver. Like athletics programs it’s just more visible. I don’t think there is a single driver in terms of expenses. That’s partly why I am content to let the whole figure out where they can hold costs down. (The compliance one is tricky though, and would have to be looked at separately.)


  7. PD Shaw says:

    I’m not sure if the proposal requires schools to eliminate price discrimination (i.e, charging different rates based upon residency, need, academic achievement, diversity, etc.). Also, not sure if this program would be in lieu of direct student loans from the federal government (now capped at $31,000). Eliminating price discrimination seems necessary if you want to bend the cost curve, but seems like it would only attract financially troubled schools. Eliminating student loans would broaden the appeal of schools to participate, but would probably be politically untenable for the upper middle class.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to PD Shaw says:

      It would not end price discrimination (not sure what purpose need or merit scholarships would serve, though) but I don’t know whether schools could accept money for some students and not others it whether the limit is the maximum (for in state anyway). I can go either way.

      Would not affect loans. Would be better if it did but I don’t think that’s politically feasible.Report

      • I lean towards all or nothing, by the way, though out of state an private might have different numbers. “You can only charge this much more than were giving you.”

        But I could be convinced to let schools have free kids and paying kids.

        The real tricky part would be regional operations cost differences. I’m not sure how it would handle that.Report

    • Ozzy! in reply to PD Shaw says:

      That cap is not the whole story. DIRECT loans (it’s a defined program/term, not just an adjective descriptor) are a specific category of federal student loans, which are rate subsidized and limited to the $ amount available annually and in total per individual. If that cap is reached, then one gets to take out DIRECT Plus loans, which are more expensive interest wise, also backed by the federal government (so still work for securitization purposes), that add another $30k? $45k a year in loan availability.

      The money available for students is pretty much unlimited (interest is all deferred during school) and only capped by the Direct Plus cap, which is, wait for it, the ”cost of attendance’ as determined by the institution.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Ozzy! says:

        The Direct Plus loans are for the parents of students though, right?

        I’m not sure I had much of a point, other trying to understand what the federal government is doing now. Its DIRECT loans are for $5,500 the first year, $6,500 the second year, and $7,500 each subsequent year up to the cap. That looks like its structured to not pay the entire cost of attending a four-year institution, (though Wyoming public colleges average $5,400) and perhaps even making sure personal contributions are part of the first year. Average student loan debt upon graduation is $35,000. Now, I’m wondering if that is just the students or whether it includes parents loans. And aren’t the parents on the hook for repayment of those?Report

        • Ozzy! in reply to PD Shaw says:

          Yes, you are correct that Plus loans require a guarantor (the parent or any signee) or for the student to have decent credit.

          The loan is to the student, so would be included in all the stats being used here. The other signee’s are guarantors, which places them legally on the hook, but it is not a loan to them.

          That is how you get students with $XXX,000 in debt, despite the cap on Direct loans.

          I think the key piece here is: there is a federal student loan program that will provide debt up to the level determined by the institution as the cost of attendance. Institution determines $ amount, Government provides $ amount, in a relatively closed loop. Student either says yes please, I need help! (if they have a decent credit score) or get someone (anyone) to sign as a guarantor.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Ozzy! says:

            If there’s a whiff of disparate impact, it’s likely to be overturned.

            This strikes me as likely to have disparate impact.Report

          • PD Shaw in reply to Ozzy! says:

            Thanks, my daughter starts college in the Fall, and I first saw some of this information a months or so ago, and I was surprised that the basic federal loan commitment was that low. I’d not given it much thought, but if asked, I would have assumed that the DIRECT loans would be at least around $10,000 per year (around the average for public in-state tuition).

            But if the average indebtedness for college graduates is $35,000, that’s pretty close to the total of DIRECT Loans available, so its the typical vehicle. Paying $35,000 at 5.05% interest over ten years will require a monthly payment of $372.09. I’m not sure that reflects runway costs. Maybe the issue is personal income.

            (I recognize that the average also reflects some middle ground where the parents pay outright, and a lot of PLUS high interest rate loans are taken out)Report

            • Ozzy! in reply to PD Shaw says:

              The Plus loans are not high interest (like a credit card high), just higher. 5-7% last time I checked, so not actually very high.

              I guarantee that the first person at the institution you talk to (because this is all done at the institution level) will start with something along the lines of:

              “We want to make sure we get you the most support you can qualify for.”Report

  8. Aaron David says:

    If education is perceived as free then it becomes expected, then it becomes 13-16 grades.

    There needs to be some mechanism for skin in the game, so to speak. I agree with you that loans, as they are structured now, are a part of the rising cost issue. Not the only part, but still a part. In my eyes, schools need to be on the hook, to a degree, along with students being on the hook, to a degree, and the same goes for the state. Private schools should be able to do whatever they want, but we need to recognize that if they have an endowment over a certain point, they are no longer a non-profit. They simply have a different shareholder. And thus no longer eligible for state subsidies.Report

    • Jaybird in reply to Aaron David says:

      They’re going to end up with High School: The Sequel. I’d like to hear arguments for why we’d end up with High School 2: The Wrath of High School or High School 2: High School Strikes Back instead of High School 2: Electric Boogaloo.Report

    • The political problem with this is that schools will be rewarded and penalized by the students they attract. That would likely escalate the cost wars and possibly put the open admission schools out of business.

      Obama had some grand plans to hold colleges accountable. Once it was pointed out that the schools it would hit hardest would be community colleges and HBCU’s, the plan was revised to only include for-profit schools. Which goes back to the political reality that even if people here are okay with community colleges going down, it’s not an easy sell to the public.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Will Truman says:

        Or, if colleges are on the hook for a poor education that costs too much, they can be rigid in their academics. I want colleges competing for good students, not rich students. Will some schools fall by the wayside? Yes. But that is part of a functioning market. Maybe some system of promotion and regulation much like English soccer would work best? Dunno about that.

        My current thoughts on it are that students and the state should be splitting the cost up front, but colleges are responsible on the back end, say for 50% in bankruptcy. What is needed is some way to give a proper feedback loop, both academically and economically.Report

        • You’re still having to sell to the public that open admission schools should go down because they’re accepting academic borderline students. Even if that’s the wisest course of action, it’s just not something I believe is going to fly. Punishing schools for accepting academically at-risk students would be the whole point for some, but the dealbreaker for others.Report

          • Aaron David in reply to Will Truman says:

            I agree it would be tough. But there might come a point…Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

            It’s one thing when we allow individuals to perform acts that are not the wisest course of action.

            Quite another when we force individuals to subsidize these very same acts.

            We’re going to find ourselves wondering where all of these people who voted for (insert future Trumpesque here) came from.Report

            • Trumwill in reply to Jaybird says:

              I think, if anything, you’ve got backwards who is likely to be on which side of the pitchfork.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Trumwill says:

                Make every single college graduate an advocate for free college (or debt paydown or something)?


                MARCH 30, 2017 — More than one-third of the adult population in the United States has a bachelor’s degree or higher marking the first time in decades of data.

                “The percentage rose to 33.4 percent in 2016, a significant milestone since the Current Population Survey began collecting educational attainment in 1940,” said Kurt Bauman, Chief of the Education and Social Stratification Branch. “In 1940, only 4.6 percent had reached that level of education.”

                But one third is one third.

                And two thirds is two thirds.

                And this is going to have a heck of a, erm, let’s say that you will be able to make class distinctions between people in the first third and the people in the second two.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Jaybird says:

                You’re looking at the part where only one third got degrees.

                I’m looking at the part where only one third never attend.

                A lot of people in that middle third aren’t in that first third because of cost.

                And people in that first third are more interested in the subject than anyone else.

                And if people in the third group start getting the idea that their kids will not be able to afford to go to college… I’m not sure they don’t side with the rest.

                Maybe there will be pitchforks of maybe there won’t be. But if there are…Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

                If there are, it becomes even more starkly divided by class.

                (Please don’t interpret my saying this sort of thing is sustainable. It ain’t. It’s just that I think that different things will break first.)Report

              • Ozzy! in reply to Jaybird says:

                I do not know a single person that does not have a college degree with whom I have conversed as an equal recently. That was not true of me a 5 years ago. I need to be more aware of self selection.Report

  9. Swami says:

    I would suggest an “online-ish” self study degree program be provided for free at every accredited college. The college would make no differentiation between their online degree and their campus degree. People could then pick and choose and even go back and forth between the two.

    I am not arguing that onlineish degrees are a perfect solution, but they could be a way to add a very low cost option for some dedicated students. Over time with hundreds of smart colleges experimenting in how to make it work, I can imagine they would solve the issues.Report

  10. What you’re proposing is basically what many European countries do (they also limit how many people can go to college) and, to some extent, what Bernie has proposed.Report

    • I think the limiting how people go to college is a no-go.

      I wasn’t aware that Bernie was advocating the not-a-dollar-more part. I thought he was just arguing about who should pay for it. Kind of funky if I’m on Team Bern on this.Report

  11. Brent F says:

    Tabborak and Helland had a study on the matter out recently

    His conclusions were the admin bloat and facilities were something of red herrings. The driver of the cost increase was mostly from what you’d expect from applying Baumol’s cost disease, i.e. the result of differing productivity growth between the goods sector and high skill labour service sector.

    This suggests that the issue is relatively intractable unless the American market is willing to accept less labour intensive higher education as a substitute for what they were doing before.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Brent F says:

      If all this is true, sounds like online ed is going to play a bigger role in the future.

      One thing that doesn’t make sense to me is that if it’s a function of skilled labor costs, you’d think that administration would play a significant role in that. But they make a decent case that escalating administration costs isn’t it. It’s also odd to me about teaching costing more considering the shift away from tenure and towards inexpensive teach-for-hire. I mean, increasing cost of instructors is the one thing I hadn’t thought was much of a factor.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Will Truman says:

        There are more details charts in the link to his book. I read the section on college last night, and wished he had disaggregated more of his data, like separate out two-year colleges, as well as room-and-board. Also, at some point, he just looks at public universities and ignores private institutions because there are more students attending the former.

        I think averaging a lot of different things might ignore what is happening and may lend itself to identifying cost disease as the issue. Though I’m not denying it is an issue.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Brent F says:

      The biggest thing that doesn’t make sense to me is this, though: If it’s a matter of labor costs increasing wherever and for whatever reason, shouldn’t labor’s portion of the overall cost of college be rising compared to that of facilities? Seems like it’s remarkably stable. Meaning that facility costs (among other things) are increasing at roughly the same rate. Which, if it’s driven by the skilled labor costs of being in the service industry, should not be.Report

      • pillsy in reply to Will Truman says:

        My first thought about the research share, at least (still infinitely cynical) is to wonder how much of the time-wasting red tape generated by administrators for people who want to do research in university settings is actually coming from administrators whose salary (and office space, et c.) appear under the “research” line item.Report

      • George Turner in reply to Will Truman says:

        I wonder if labor costs are directly linked to facilities costs because every new worker gets an office and every new office gets a worker?

        It could be the same problem as doubling the size of an army, which requires doubling the size of the barracks.Report

      • If it’s a matter of labor costs increasing wherever and for whatever reason…

        We have a number of regulars here who can talk about how rapidly higher ed has shifted to adjuncts who barely scrape by versus tenured faculty. An adjunct who has to teach three/four classes per semester, every semester, to make a living represents a hell of a discount on the historical cost of faculty.

        The math departments at the local community colleges here where I live survive on retired engineers who are bored and will teach remedial math classes for a pittance for a few semesters for something to do.Report

    • pillsy in reply to Brent F says:

      I’m a bit skeptical of the assumption that primary/secondary and post-secondary education have identical reasons for their cost growth, which seems to be implicit in the linked piece.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Brent F says:

      One last thing about this is that as I was reading it, I thought that it also had some implications for health care and our ability to rein in costs there (with single payer for instance).

      I held back saying anything because I saw that they investigated that too and maybe they found something different.

      Nope. They say the same thing about healthcare. Which is to say that if true we won’t save any money by changing the system.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Will Truman says:

        I assumed some portion of the cost disease was healthcare costs: responsible for increases in total compensation and responsible for crowding out state support for higher education.Report

  12. LeeEsq says:

    Like Saul, I’m not really sure if universities could really clamp down on the amenities. The most spartan universities seem to be the ones that are the hardest to get into and SLACs. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Sanford could afford to be low amenity schools because the people know the signal the degree grants outweighs any amenity. Its the universities that didn’t quite have this reputation that need amenities to attract students. It started with the semi-elite universities like George Washington and NYU, the former working class and lower middle class commuter schools, during the late 1980s. It slowly trickled down to less prestigious state schools. Sort of like your communication with Chip about tuition above.

    Salaries for administrators is another reason why colleges and universities grew more expensive. The near unlimited money available through student loans and other government sources made some clever people realize that as administrators they can pay themselves some very nice salaries. Coaches at division one schools can get seven figures and perks. Administrators low and mid six figures easily. Its using public money to enrich yourself.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think the solution, if it exists, is going to involve finding schools that simply can’t afford to play that game. I think demographics might make some schools (Angelo State being the example I use) open to suggestion even while most name schools opt out.

      It’s not unlike my idea of a federal school system charged with providing a lower-cost option to compete with the state schools. Their entire mission would be cost-based and they may not even have facilities.

      In both cases, though, it’s important to recognize how they would not be competing with brand schools. They would just be an alternative.Report

      • Ozzy! in reply to Will Truman says:

        I think if you cut off the spigot (unlimited, securitizable funds, only capped by the institution’s own determination of ‘cost of attendance’ loans), things will change quite dramatically. The money pot is driven by a governmentally mandated externality (loans to uncreditworthy people). Same as housing in 2008. The results will not be ‘equitable’, but it sure would change the math.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Usually when people point to amenities, its rock-climbing walls and lazy rivers (mentioned by Warren and Christie last election cycle). My general impression is that since I went to college(*), schools have offered more exercise/recreational facilities. Rock-climbing walls hardly cost anything. The lazy rivers seem to be rare, but generally pool facilities have funner designs than when I went to school. Inside Higher Education pointed out at the time that LSU had just approved a new recreational facility that included rock-climbing walls and lazy rivers after the student body voted to increase the student rec fee by $200 per semester.Report

  13. Jaybird says:

    “Master’s Degree required? This is bullshit! Getting a Master’s Degree costs a huge amount of money!”

    “I know! We should make it free!”Report

  14. George Turner says:

    In all threads about the cost of higher education, I always feel obliged to plug Delhi University.

    It’s amusing to look at the fees, tuition, board, etc.

    One student said “The fees structure of my course was approximately INR 10,000 for two years. I had to pay this amount in two instalments. The first instalment is to be made at the time of admission and the second is to be made after the completion for Ist year. The examination fees, library access fees, etc. are included in this only.

    10,000 Rupees is $143.65 US dollars*

    One way to avoid the massive inflation in college costs is to go somewhere that it’s never hit. A four year degree over there is probably cheaper than the plane ticket.Report

  15. Conservatives and libertarians like to blame student loans. The argument is that colleges respond to the availability of funds by raising prices because subsidy just increases the market-clearing price.

    But this wouldn’t apply to elementary and secondary school vouchers because …Report

    • This is one of three big things that has turned me on vouchers. I’m not against them but now believe they have to cover cost of attendance.

      I have another piece in mind on universal daycare and why I would want the government to provide it rather than a child care subsidy.

      I think about college a lot when I think about those issues.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      Query: If a school accepts a voucher, can it still hit the parents with a bill on top of the value the voucher provides?Report

      • It’s often sold as “give poor kids the same opportunities as rich kids”. If the answer to your query is “no”, good private schools remain just as out of reach.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I’m pretty sure the Milwaukee program required the schools to accept the voucher as payment in full, but also the state increased school spending in Milwaukee as part of the program.

        Personally, I don’t want any government money to go towards private education, but I thought Milwaukee’s program was fair when it started.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to PD Shaw says:

          I’ve seen good and bad programs. Some are clearly taxpayer giveaways to private and parochial schools, some are honest attempts to improve the public system. I think each has to be taken on it’s merits, since we don’t have a singular approach.Report

  16. Mike Dwyer says:

    One of my employees is working on an online degree through WGU. They let him test out of a most of the traditional liberal arts subjects so he could do his actual major in about 2 years. From what I can tell, the degree is mostly just a collection of certifications in a variety of coding languages, with Power BI and some other data science stuff thrown in. It feels a bit like cheating to call it a single degree, but he’s playing the game. He’ll have a lot of options both internally and externally when he is done next year.

    Which got me thinking about how easy it would be to design a 2 year program that would adequately prepare someone to work in a variety of entry-level management jobs. A bit of technical writing, master-level Excel, some critical thinking, business, social science (for understanding people!), etc etc. Community colleges could call it an associate’s degree and they would be doing corporate America a solid if they convinced hiring managers to bring graduates onboard.Report

    • Ozzy! in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I am curious what ‘entry level management jobs’ you are referring to. Like manager of an Enterprise Rentacar location? Manager of a Days Inn? Manager of a injection-molding job shop? What entry level job are you considering ‘management’?Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Ozzy! says:

        In my company, a floor supervisor in the warehouse is management. They get a bonus and other perks.Report

        • Ozzy! in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

          I guess that is an example, but much more specific than what I asked about. Do those managers typically have a college degree? Would they benefit from your hypothetical 2 year program? Warehouse manager on its face seems like a great role for on-the-job people to gravitate towards and for companies to cater to those folks.Report

          • Mike Dwyer in reply to Ozzy! says:

            Someone can obtain and do that job without a degree. It’s more about managing people and the tactical side of running the business day to day. Advancing further is where the degree comes in. Most higher positions require it. That’s where a focused two-year program would help. It would give them the skills required to keep moving forward, which they would then supplement with on the job learning.

            I find critical thinking and good writing skills are really hard to teach on the job. I think a university setting is better for that.Report

  17. Michael Cain says:

    Of the four universities where I have spent time, at least three are job engines outside the school per se through start-ups trying to exploit research results. The academic structure that facilitates that is quite different from what is likely needed for a cost-constrained undergraduate program: adequate time for research, robust graduate school programs, etc.

    At different schools I brushed up against an amazing range of technical areas where this was happening. Just off the top of my head, from satellite design to advanced drilling muds to turning pure math into applied math to engineering crop plants. Where those succeed, they produce jobs with a wide range of necessary skills. Someone has to answer the phone, handle the purchasing, do design and manufacturing, figure out marketing.

    The same may be true outside of tech fields, but I lack direct experience with that.

    For what it’s worth, all three are located around the periphery of the Great Plains, so it’s not just a coastal urban thing.Report

  18. JoeSal says:

    “I want colleges shut down. I want them silenced. I want them muted. I think they are horrible for our society.”

    “Colleges are an Excess Freedom.”Report

  19. Rufus F. says:

    I think all your points in the post are right. The high expense of university education strikes me as one of those problems that is highly multicausal and the problem is different groups and political groups come up with monocausal solutions, which are fine as far as they go, but don’t really fix much.Report