December 8, 2018

Why does college cost so much?

By now in your college process, you may have started to wonder, “Why on earth is college so expensive?” and likely also, “Why is it so much more expensive than it used to be?” It’s a multi-faceted and much-debated topic, with educators, administrators, policy-makers, and more all weighing in, so let’s dive in!  We’ve reviewed several articles on the matter, and we’ll start by taking a look a college’s primary expenses: faculty, staff, and facilities.

1) Faculty: Faculty salaries, payroll taxes, and benefits add up to a significant portion of a college’s expenses.  Not only that, but as wages have increased across sectors, education has needed to keep up in order to attract top talent.  

2) Staff:  Consider all of the departments a college needs to operate beyond its teaching faculty: admissions, financial aid, development, marketing, student affairs and extracurricular activities, IT, maintenance, healthcare, dining, career counseling, academic support, to name just a few.  Some departments, like admissions and financial aid, are affected by the increasing demand for college and have needed to add staff in order to process the deluge of applications received each year. Others, like IT, maintenance, and healthcare, require skilled professionals who are proficient in their fields as well as the latest technology.  Further, many colleges have vastly improved their residential experiences, investing in higher quality student housing and dining options, and thus increased the cost of residential life. Finally, the college experience has expanded to encompass more than solely academics, bolstering their extracurricular and career counseling departments as a result.  

3) Facilities: Many facilities are required for the traditional college experience.  Dorms, dining halls, health centers, athletic and fitness centers, visual and performing arts centers, STEM labs, and general classroom technology are necessary for students and faculty alike.  These resources have not only expanded but have become more expensive over time, and all tuitions contribute to cover these expenses, regardless of a particular student’s program of choice.

A great deal of the increase is due to the fact that it simply costs more nowadays to educate the same number of people.  The increase is also due to the fact that the decrease in public funding has resulted in a need for colleges to charge more; that the availability of financial aid has allowed colleges to charge more; and that as demand and competition for college admission has increased, colleges have become able to use pricing strategy to shape their student body (e.g., by increasing the listed tuition and offering discounts or aid to students they would like to attend).

Whew!  As we said, it’s a complex topic, but we hope we’ve helped clarify it for you!  Regardless of the reasons, college is expensive, so be sure to check out the financial aid resources on the CEW site as well as on the Common Application itself.

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