The High Cost of Cheap Education

Public college tuition has jumped 33 percent nationwide since 2000.

Tuition has increased at a rate higher than inflation for 30 years, and the end result is higher student debt and an entire generation at a loss as to how they will pay off their loans. In 2011, the average student loan debt was nearly $30,000, while the government’s average Pell Grant aid remained stuck below $5,000, as it has been since 1977.

(Sources: Wikipedia and

Imagine inflation of this level in any other field.

In a field other than education, the producers and profit-makers would be blamed. “Those greedy SOBs. They’re selfish and mean. Take their money away.”

Somehow, higher education gets a free pass in the moralizing department when it comes to high prices.

Why? Probably because those who constantly complain about profit and the free market realize that government intervention in education is precisely what causes tuition inflation in the first place. And because such haters of capitalism wish to see government intervention in higher education increase, not decrease, they don’t care to call attention to this fact.

The fact is: Supply and demand are laws of nature; specifically, nature as it applies to economics. There’s no escaping it.

Government intervention in the education field consists of grants, regulations and (most of all) indirect subsidization via the student loan program. By causing student loans to be cheaper and/or more available than they otherwise would have been in an uncontrolled lending market, demand for college became higher than it otherwise would have been.

The more government forces college to be “affordable,” the greater demand there is for college education than there are colleges to provide it. As a result, tuition rises way above the rate of inflation.

One simplistic solution is to simply raise the number and benefit amounts of Pell Grants. Really? This will make demand higher relative to the supply and drive tuition costs up still higher. Obama speaks in vague terms which amount to nationalizing colleges altogether, and essentially making them “free” like public elementary and high schools. Does anyone think the track record of these public institutions, with billions upon billions more spent every year, warrants applying this approach to colleges?

Most people’s thinking on this subject only extends as far as, “College is too expensive. It’s getting more expensive all the time. Something should be done about it–and now.” They applaud Obama’s vague (and in his case, probably sincere) statements about nationalizing higher education completely, thereby putting all education under government control (including content). They don’t really think about the implications of it all, but simply applaud anything that qualifies as “doing something.”

Some claim that college education is already privatized because state universities are gaining more from tuition payments and less from state governments every year. This is largely because state governments cannot extend debt into some indefinite, non-existent infinity as the federal government is attempting to do with multiple trillions of dollars in debt.

That’s why advocates of unlimited federal government power, including Obama, seek to have the federal government essentially start financing (and controlling) everything in higher education. So what if the federal government is already long bankrupt? Just inflate the currency and extend the debt higher.

As with so many other things, the basic choice is either freedom or coercion. It’s either private enterprise and capitalism, or the clunky stupidity and irrational control-freakism of an all-powerful central government.

Skyrocketing tuition is merely a symptom of a government’s refusal (with majority approval) to refuse to face the basic facts of supply and demand.

The only solution for education is a system of private enterprise, with supply and demand set by the marketplace. In this context, those who charge tuition (the colleges and universities) must ultimately answer to their customers, i.e. students and their families.

It’s little wonder Big Education seeks to keep things as they are, with the federal government bankrolling everything.


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