The High Price of Higher Ed

Tuition costs have outpaced inflation.

Sept. 20, 2008 — -- The high cost of higher education is taking a toll on students and their families. With an ailing economy and the average price of a private university at $23,000 annually, while the median yearly income is $50,000 for the American household, sending students to college presents a fundamental challenge for some.

"One of the big differences you see now are students that maybe 10 or 15 years ago came from families who can easily afford to pay for their son or daughter's education," said The Chronicle of Higher Education editor Jeffrey Selingo, "now being forced to apply for financial aid."

"I think tuition has gotten to the point where government, schools, charities need to start stepping in," one University of North Carolina student said.

Across the country, college tuition rates have far outpaced inflation. Prices have risen 6.6 percent this year alone. Schools cite many factors for rising college costs, including some that administrators say are out of their control.

And the higher tuition also has impacted university employees like Drew University president Bob Weisbuch, who has children in college, too.

"I am a tuition paying parent and I am a tuition charging president," he said. "From the parent of two college aged kids, I get the bills, I gasp."

On Drew University's Madison, N.J. campus of 1,600 students, the school charges $35,000 a year. Just 10 years ago the price was $22,000.

"As a president of the university I have to try and figure out how to get it out the door with a 3 percent to 4 percent tuition increase," Weisbuch said. "My expendages, tend to be mostly about student life and student instruction," Weisbuch said. "As a president of the university I am faced with a 10 percent increase in energy cost, 10 percent increase in health care and benefits cost, rising costs and other aspects in education."

At Drew University 40 percent of the tuition goes to faculty and staff, while 15 percent goes toward academic support such as libraries. Another 15 percent goes to student life initiatives such as sports and clubs, while 15 percent covers food and housing services. Finally another 15 percent goes toward institutional support for finances and aid.

More and more students are relying on financial aid to fund their education.

"We provide financial aid to such a great degree, not loans, but actual aid that the average student is paying more than just a little of half of the stated tuition," Weisbuch said.

Only about a third of Drew's student body actually pays full tuition.

But at the University of North Carolina where in state students pay about $13,000 annually and out-of-state pupils pay $9,000 more in tuition, many believe the costs are worth the experience.

"Whatever I'm paying here is pretty much worth it. I think I'm paying too little," one UNC student said.