Short Views

The Academic Industrial Complex

In his farewell address, Dwight Eisenhower warned against a military-industrial complex that would seek to enrich itself through false appeals to the common good.  Today, it is higher education that is growing rich by convincing the public that its actions are for their good.

The costs that universities and colleges are charging students range from the outrageous to the obscene.  As Mark Brennan noted in these pages in September, tuition has increased more than three times the rate of inflation since 1980.  Paul Streitz of has calculated that, if tuition increases had kept pace with inflation since 1960, the average tuition at a private college today would be $9,000 per year, not $44,000.  In 1980, the average college cost of $3,500 per year represented 18 percent of median household income.  Today, average college costs represent 44 percent of median household income, and many private schools charge tuition well in excess of the median household income of approximately $50,000 per year.  Many students used to pay for college through part-time and summer employment.  That is now impossible for the vast majority.  It is true that, thanks to the alchemy of financial aid, many students pay only a portion of the tuition charged by their college.  But the detailed financial disclosure required for financial aid is designed to enable colleges to determine...

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