Wednesday, March 14, 2012

College, or, A Bone to Pick

Many people have a bone to pick with Mitt Romney. Here’s mine:

“. . . Don’t just go to the one that has the highest price. Go to one that
has a little lower price where you can get a good education.”

And where exactly, Mr. Romney, would that be?

I can sum up the problem with his argument in one graph. Compare the rate of growth of tuition and median household income.

Yes, you’re reading that correctly. From 1987 until 2007, the cost of going to college has increased by four times the rate of inflation, and trust me – it’s not slowing down any time soon. Let’s take a look at what this is actually costing families, in terms of percentage of total family income.

Take a closer look. The average cost of attendance actually exceeds the total family income of the lowest income bracket. And in case you’re looking at these numbers and saying, “That’s not what college costs! I bet those averages are overstated!” I pulled the latest tuition numbers from my own alma mater, Michigan State (numbers include 15 credits tuition, room and board, and assorted other fees).

In-State Freshmen, Total for two semesters: $21,026
Non-Michigan Freshmen, Total for two semesters: $39,896
International Freshmen, Total for two semesters: $44,827

And these numbers go up once you become an upperclassman, as upperclassmen credits are more expensive. Why? Who knows?

Keep in mind that this is not a private school, and it is not the academic powerhouse that the neighboring University of Michigan is. It is supposed to be a place where you can go and get a solid, no-frills undergraduate education, either as a foundation for further study or as a decent degree in its own right. This is the school Romney refers to when he says, “. . . to one that has a little lower price where you can get a good education.”

And yet a school like MSU still costs nearly three-quarters of the total household income of families in the lowest income bracket, even after need based grants. For those families earning between 54,000 and 80,000 dollars a year, that’s still nearly a quarter of the family’s income (after grants!).

Romney wants us to receive a good education from a cheap school. Frankly, that place doesn’t exist anymore, and only someone totally out of touch with the state of higher education in this country could fail to realize that.

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