Here's Why Tuition Can't Keep Rising

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Feb. 7 2013 10:47 AM

The Real Problem With Colleges' Business Model

Students from the University of Texas at El Paso drink beer from a funnel on the beach during the annual ritual of Spring Break March 25, 2008 on South Padre Island, Texas.
Students from the University of Texas at El Paso drink beer from a funnel on the beach during the annual ritual of Spring Break March 25, 2008 on South Padre Island, Texas.

Photo by Rick Gershon/Getty Images

Below (via Tyler Cowen) is an important chart from Diana Carew of the Progressive Policy Institute showing the falling earnings of college graduates in the 25-to-34-year-old bracket.

1360252466769

And that right there is the simple problem with the existing higher education business model in the United States, which has involved aggregate per student spending that rises faster than inflation for a long time. This has relatively little bearing on the missplaced worry about whether or not college is "worth it" (the relative earnings of college gradatues are still high) or on the overhyped idea that online education is going to disrupt traditional learning. The real issue is simply that people can't spend money they don't have on tuition, nor will banks want to lend people money that they aren't going to have.

If schools aren't going to be able to charge as much, they'll have to spend less on various things including the amenities that potential students desire. With or without the injection of lots of new digital technology it's clearly possible to offer a cheaper, more stripped-down version of education. If people can't afford to keep spending so much, that's what we'll get.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?

Science

“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 10:39 PM Avengers: Age of Ultron Looks Like a Fun, Sprawling, and Extremely Satisfying Sequel
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.