Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is College Tuition Too High? Of Course (not)

You can't open a newspaper these days--at least those of you who still read newspapers--without reading something about college tuition.  Usually, the takeaway from the article is something like:
  • It's out of control
  • No one can afford college any more
  • Most colleges charge $40,000 just for tuition
And, as is often the case, actual data can help dispel these myths.  It is true, of course, that college tuition has been increasing rapidly for some time.  Not 500%, as MSN suggests, especially not when adjusted for inflation.  But it's gone up fast, nonetheless.  

The thing most people forget is that about 78% of all full-time, undergraduate college enrollment in the not-for-profit sector attends public institutions; in fact, about 9% of all college enrollment in the U.S. is in California Community Colleges. (If you want to re-create these findings, download the spreadsheet from that link and do it yourself.  The visualization is not very clear.)

Here's the data to back it up.  The Chronicle of Higher Education put the data into a Tableau Software Data Visualization; I downloaded their workbook and reformatted it a bit.  You can see what percentage of students attend colleges with the tuition listed, and on the bottom chart, you can see the running totals.  Surprised?  Don't be.  College has always cost a lot less, on average, than most people think.  It's the focus on the tail end that drives perception.