Why Do Colleges Cost So Much?

As millions of high school seniors wait anxiously to learn where they've been accepted to college, their anxiety may soon transfer to their parents when the bill comes.

Tuition has far outpaced inflation in recent years, with tuition now averaging $12,796 at public universities and $30,367 at private colleges, according to the College Board.

Connecticut College now charges $45,000 a year, which is slightly below the annual average income of an American household. The school's president, Leo Higdon, said while there is no "simple" way to explain that price, there is a rationale.

Higdon said it starts with the growing expense of attracting the best faculty and achieving a 10 to 1 ratio of students to teachers, which accounts for 20 percent of his $100 million annual budget.

The money also goes toward maintaining a 750-acre campus in New London, Conn. "This is in many ways a small town," Higdon told ABC's Betsy Stark. "We have residence halls, we have a library, we have dining facilities."

And the cost of staffing and maintaining those facilities accounts for 46 percent of the school's budget, given the strain of bringing century-old buildings into the multimedia age.

Country Club Colleges?

The hefty tuition fees at Connecticut College also fund a lot of extras outside the classroom -- a 2,000-gallon indoor rowing tank for the crew team, and fitness centers that look like health clubs.

"I call it the country club-ization of the American university," said Ohio University professor Richard Vedder. "If you want to send your kid to live at the Marriott instead of Motel 6, that's fine, but is that what higher education is really all about?"

At many schools, amenities are intended to attract the best students. Connecticut College devotes 17 percent of its budget to academic and student life, and its applicant pool hit an all-time high this year, despite the pricey tuition.

When asked if his college is worth the $45,000 tuition, Higdon said, "We think it is. The ultimate judge obviously is the success of our students."

Many of them could not attend without financial aid, which now accounts for 17 percent of the annual budget and may go higher as stratospheric tuition moves further out of reach.

ABC News correspondent Betsy Stark originally reported this piece for "World News With Charles Gibson.