Monday, September 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

The mysteries of higher-ed $$$

Why does almost all higher-ed cost as much as it does, especially given new Forbes rankings?

The mysteries of higher-ed $$$

There's so much I don't understand (and no wisecracks, please).

The range is pretty broad. Why, for example, if you leave a bit of cereal in a bowl for an hour does is adhere to the bowl as if super-glued? What's in that stuff?

And why, for another example, do the billions of tax dollars spent to alleviate urban poverty or improve urban schools never seem to make much of a difference? Where does the money go?

Well, add to this the mysteries of higher-ed money.

I was scanning through the latest Forbes list of top colleges, some 650 in all, and was struck more by the price than the annual rankings.

Not that the rankings aren't always interesting. Stanford was first and Pomona College, a small liberal arts school east of LA with fewer than 1,600 students, was second. The top five is rounded out by (less surprisingly) Princeton, Yale and Columbia.

And in Pennsylvania, the top 10 schools and their rankings are: Swarthmore (6), Penn (11), Bryn Mawr (40), Carnegie Mellon (42), Haverford (43), Lafayette (48), Lehigh (70), Villanova (79) Franklin & Marshall (86) and Penn State (93).

But the cost of these fine schools and of schools ranked hundreds of places lower is, at least to me, astounding.

For generations, the rule of thumb was that a year in college was roughly the price of decent new car. Not anymore.

The annual tuition at the top five schools ranges from $54,780 (Princeton) to $61,540 (Columbia). You can get a pretty nice car for a lot less than that. In fact you can get a 2014 Lexus IS250 for $35,900. You just can't a year at a good college anywhere for that price.

The lowest annual cost of Pennsylvania's top 10 schools? Penn State at $44,156.

And even though the top schools all cost in the mid- to high-50's, you can go way down the list and find, for example, Fordam (163) at $61,073; St. Joe's (227) at $53,130; Drexel (364) at $55,910; and LaSalle (468) at $49,900.

I know all these schools offer aid and grants. I know there are lots of loans involved. But somebody somewhere is getting all that money.

Student debt is now second in America only to mortgage debt, having surpassed credit card debt.

The Consumer Financial Protection Board now says federal student loan debt is $1.2 trillion.

The average college grad (working or not) carries debt of more than $27,000.

Maybe there are good reasons for all this. Maybe higher-ed isn't colluding to rip off students, the government and all of us. It's just that, like bits of cereal stuck in the bowl, I don't understand it.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
Also on Philly.com
Stay Connected