After all, didn't ambitious citizens have to pay their dues to higher ed in order to have a meaningful chance at success? With seemingly no viable alternative or exit strategy, consumers have stretched their pocketbooks to the breaking point and taken out loans to purchase a chance at the American Dream. (Today over 35% of students rely on student loans, and the number is growing.) Not surprisingly, the last twenty years have seen tuition costs rise at over three times the rate of inflation. The overall costs for many private schools add up to $50,000 per year, while public universities cost up to $20,000
for state residents, and over $30,000 for those who hail from out of state. Meanwhile, wages for most Americans have been left in the dust.
Last September, Timothy Burke, a professor of history at Swarthmore, wrote an influential essay at Inside Higher Ed in which he asserted that "the party's over" for higher ed's tuition and building binge. Burke focused on five main reasons for a contraction in higher education: 1) declines in tuition growth; 2) underperformance by endowments; 3) pullbacks by donors (indeed, on November 26 the Wall Street Journal published a lead story on how the economic crisis has caused a downturn in charity giving nation-wide); 4) lower funding from public and private sources; and 5) the fact that revenues from IPOs, investment property rights, and technology benefit only a few institutions. A respondent to Burke's piece added three other factors: 1) fewer students are attending college as the nation's demographics change; 2) "growing public awareness of the declining economic returns of a college degree" is causing a backlash; and 3) such on-line schools as the University of Phoenix provide education at a fraction of what residential institutions charge. (Will the Internet affect higher ed the same way it has affected newspapers?)