Our Universities: The Outrageous Reality

Source: Andrew Delbanco, New York Review of Books, July 9, 2015

…..Colleges and universities cannot be expected to solve America’s problems of inequity. They cannot repair broken families, or make up for learning deficits incurred early in childhood, or “level the playing field” for students with inadequate preparation. But they should be expected to try to mitigate these problems rather than worsen them—and one main reason they are failing to do so is their relentlessly rising cost…..

….But if there are problems in the private sector, by far the biggest driver of rising tuition has been the lack of economic investment in public institutions. Between 1998 and 2008, tuition rose at four-year private colleges by 33 percent, while at four-year public universities it climbed by 54 percent—a divergence that widened with the Great Recession.16 And this has happened at a time when most Americans have experienced wage stagnation.

To make matters worse, the trend in dispensing financial aid—both by the states and by colleges themselves—has been moving away from calculations of need toward assessments of “merit” as demonstrated by test scores, extracurricular activities, and the like.17 Since low-income students are often saddled with family responsibilities and summer and term-time jobs, they tend to have fewer opportunities than their more affluent peers for the sort of entrepreneurship, volunteer work, or studies abroad that may impress admissions officers…..