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The primary argument for raising the price of college based on the ultimate utility received from the purchase doesn't make much economic sense. By this argument you would logically have to charge higher prices for classes and degree programs that have a higher rate of return than others. French literature classes would essentially be free, where as computer science classes would be very expensive.


By way of justifying increased overall public college tuition, while preserving opportunities for students from poor backgrounds to get a higher education, Becker suggests that "[p]erhaps individuals who earn less would have to repay a smaller fraction of their loans."

Absolutely bad idea. It would reward slackers who waste years in college getting an expensive degree, without ever developing any work ethic that would put such a degree to productive use. More to the point, no government -- federal, state, or local -- should ever promulgate public policy that encourages citizens to run up debt in the hope it might be forgiven later.

Far better to help individuals who pursue degrees with low earning capability by letting them work off their tuition debts, such as by teaching or other public service.


"For example, tuition and fees at the University of Illinois, Urbana increased from $4770 in the academic year 2000 to $13, 508 in the 2011 academic year."

It would be of interest to know more about why "costs?" increase nearly threefold in just a decade.

Also, it's yet another area where rapidly rising prices stand out against stagnant wages for both the parent and the college student. Sooo, another troublesome layer of public policy and subsidies as the costs out run both the ability to pay -- as we somehow did in those "poorer" years of the 50's and 60's -- and the students ability to repay huge loans.

Hey! I know! Add educational tourism to that of medical tourism! Outsource! A friend of mine was well educated, economically, at Oxford and I see some prospective docs and nurses excluded here by cost and long lines heading for other venues as well.

Ha! Perhaps the strong oak tree of America is not weakening by the seemingly unsustainable nature of our economy, but simply sowing its acorns abroad and in turn being, hopefully, revitalized by those who can afford US college costs coming here. Ahh, globalism wears so many coats!


One way to make college more affordable for everyone

Private, for-profit, and state college tuition increases are making a college education unattainable for many people. The tuition increases come at a time when jobs are scarce and families are struggling. Even more alarming, some states are entertaining the idea of taxing tuition in order to close budget deficits.

One way to make college affordable would be to exempt federal income taxes on the income of college graduates (assuming they can find jobs) until they have paid off their school loans. The minimum monthly payment on the loan would then be equivalent to the federal income taxes they would owe if they did not have a school loan to repay. When the school loan has been repaid, then the employee would commence paying federal income taxes.

Students and colleges will benefit and the government and our society will more than make-up for the lost tax revenue after the school loan has been repaid. The colleges and states will not lose revenue, since it is the federal government that will forgo the income taxes while the student loan is repaid. Additionally, we will have a more educated and productive society, which will create even more revenue, innovation, jobs, and taxes.

An educated, productive, and creative society is key to the success of the United States, yet we are making a college education unattainable and unaffordable. If education is truly important, then let’s make college more affordable for all students.


The taxpayers should fund public schools because a highly educated workforce is the price of admission to the modern industrial world. As such, it is as crucial to a nation's well-being as a good, competitive transportation infrastructure and healthcare delivery system. Without those things, the citizenry cannot rise to its maximum potential, and the economy - eventually, inevitably - suffers.

The US has always pushed against this: its infrastructure, healthcare system and (non-university) education have been lagging the rest of the developed world for many decades. The result has been entirely as expected: an economic stratification of society, with high rates of violent crime, poverty and even malnutrition. The main benefit of the system has been that it attracts highly educated people from other countries: after all, in the US they will be paid more and taxed less, and their children are more likely to be successful than if they had to succeed on their own merits alone.

None of this is likely to change in the near future, because an overhaul of the system cannot succeed piecemeal. There is a deep ideological as well as practical chasm between the US republic and the social democracies that prevail in the rest of the developed world. It was only in the wake of WWII that that chasm was ever breached, and the current state of affairs is not nearly desperate enough for things to change. In the end, that is why the US cannot hope to remain a superpower, or - in the long run - a great power, despite its huge natural advantages.


It would reward slackers who waste years in college getting an expensive degree, without ever developing any work ethic that would put such a degree to productive use. More to the point, no government -- federal, state, or local -- should ever promulgate public policy that encourages citizens to run up debt in the hope it might be forgiven later.
thanks emlak pencerem turkey


Higher education in general has become corporatized and therefore needs a positive bottom line to survive. Academic salaries have outstripped inflation and large universities sport huge athletic programs, performing arts centers, restaurants, shops, etc. They all compete for customers(students) and faculty and prestige. To boot, undergraduate are largely insufficient for the workplace. Master degrees are the new undergrad degrees. As a society we would be better off teaching the liberal arts in high school and then teaching the trades in a school after that. But since American culture has now accepted a "college degree" a a sine qua non, it is something everyone wants and/or needs, is expensive and getting more so. My guess is that the politicians will sieze on that next, like health care, and subsidize more rather than less in exchange for more control .


The problem with the increasing higher tuition is that smart, hard-working, worthy students will not choose college, thus depriving society of their abilities. Colleges simply must control their expenses to keep tuition affordable.

Christopher Graves

I question the value of the education students are receiving at many colleges today. Most professors at these schools are hired and are promoted based on their ability to do obscure research. Their interest in and their ability to teach is limited. Even if some are interested in teaching and are good at it, these faculty members are not rewarded for excellence in teaching, and if they spend much time in preparation for teaching as they spend time and energy away from research, they will be punished for their efforts by being denied tenure due to an insufficient number of publications.

These considerations are playing out in the amount and quality of work expected from undergraduates. They are typically assigned less reading and fewer writing assignments. There is little discussion with top professors in class or out of class.

To add insult to injury, the research itself is largely dubious especially in the social sciences and humanities. The readership of these articles is approximately four people per article. Higher education is a massive con game to support some sort of snob society of obscurity.

It might very well be that the reason college grads earn more is that otherwise intelligent people go to college. The cause of their higher income is not the college education, but their native intelligence and their family background. The correlation here might be spurious as it ignores a common cause--college grads are just more motivated and intelligent and these factors are what leads them to study at college as well as success after graduation.


Christopher, right on. But the motive for the research aside from the prestige at the American Society of Whatever is money. Promotions are based on publications and the research behind those publications is funded with grant money which not only pays part of the researcher's salary but in most cases comes with a multiplier for the dean of the researcer's college. Higher education would be much less expensive if there were no research or only meaningful research.


Chris: There seems much to discuss in your post.

Of young people I see, there are a number of "front runners" out of HS who could probably enter the job market virtually on par with some who've graduated college. Many of the job ads I see that insist on a BS/BA seem jobs that could be quickly learned by any B student HS grad.

What seems to be going on is A. Industry uses the costly BA as a, cheap for them, means of sorting for literacy and trainability, B. Industry doesn't want, nor need, to do much training as for decades we've had more folks competing for jobs, than industry competing for new hires.

Still, even aside from the sharp young college grads I see having mastered their specialties the IS a greater depth to them than is, on average, the case for HS grads. In addition to, as you put it, them being the brighter and more energetic (often privileged) the benefit from rubbing up against other bright and inquisitive students, not to mention often being greatly inspired by some professors along the way.

As for research in social studies and the humanities being of "dubious" value; look around, aside from cancer and Alzheimer's, the most vexing problems we face are the social ones of how is this great family to get on in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. The humanities? Literature? Art? Music? and perhaps research for the sheer hell of it? These are the joys of the world, not to mention how many folks make their living in those areas.

(Might be good to assess the "worth" of much of the military research that finds its way to our campuses?)


John: Something seems to happen, particularly to young men between the ages of the HS grad and 22-24 when many graduate college. It's perhaps that searching, wanderlust? or other restless immaturity that renders many not so attractive to the job market......... soooo, absent college, with only a very small percentage needed for our far flung warmongering, where should they be for those four years? Adding to the unemployment rolls?


Whoops! Meant Chris.

Christopher Graves

Thanks for your reply, Jim. I agree with your comments on the financial incentives provided by the Federal government and foundations to do questionable research that diverts funds, time, and energy away from teaching and, perhaps, from more fruitful research. The process you describe also distorts the college curriculum and the range of specializations that are sought after in hiring faculty.

For example, I had a friend who worked in the Psychology Department at Georgia State University in my hometown of Atlanta. GSU had a tradition of including teaching existentialist psychology among other schools of thought in their program. Several years ago, my friend told me that as the only remaining faculty member who was knowledgeable of existentialism retired, the faculty search committee considered hiring a new faculty member with an orientation in existential/phenomenological psychology to maintain GSU's traditional commitment to including this perspective in their department. A major consideration in their decision of who to hire was grant money. The committee feared that an existentialist psychologist would not bring in as much grant money as one who did empirical research. You might notice that other than Duquesne University, there are no major universities that offer a Ph.D program in existentialist/phenomenological psychology in the U.S. Grant money is a major reason for this narrowing of the field of inquiry in psychology. We can see a similar development in other disciplines.

Christopher Graves

I appreciate your thoughts in response to my comments above, Jack. I agree with you that many employers use a college degree as a means of identifying bright, energetic, dependable workers. I suspect that young people and others who have been in the job market for a while also seek to distinguish themselves by obtaining advanced degrees, which might not be necessary to qualify for their work. But with grade inflation and the general lowering of standards for a Bachelor's degree, this strategy makes sense.

It used to be that a high school diploma fulfilled this mission. But with the severe decline in primary and secondary education coupled with the imperative to graduate as many warm bodies from high school as possible, it has become necessary to earn at least a Bachelor's degree for the reasons you point out above. I remember seeing John Silber, the former Boston University president, on television in 1976 saying that a high school diploma in 1876 was equivalent to a B.A. from the University of North Carolina in 1976. Presently, I can see the decline in what is taught in grade school from the time I was a student.

I also agree with you on the exposure to other bright students that can take place in college. That can and does happen to some extent, and it is valuable when it happens. But with the large increase in students attending college simply to get better jobs or as simply a rite of passage (with many of these folks never graduating), it can be harder for the more serious students to find each other and engage each other in a serious way when the social atmosphere is shaped in another fashion by the majority who are not as interested in their studies.

In response to your comments on research, I certainly want to preserve the body of knowledge that we have in the humanities and social sciences as well as push the current boundaries of our inquiries further. My background is in philosophy, economics, and psychology, so I am very appreciative of these disciplines. But consider what I said in reply to Jim just above. I see the literary, philosophical approach to psychology and economics dying unnecessarily due to the misplaced emphasis on scientistic, quantitave research. I am not saying not to do any empirical research. But my fear is that the scientistic research program is driving out all other approaches, and this development is driven in large part by the demand for a certain type of research.

Another big problem with current academic research is the quality. The stress on producing research has given us a lot of busy-work papers with little substance. I would suggest taking a look at a range of academic journals in your local college library. Are many of these articles interesting or even intelligible? I would suggest that while some are, many are pure junk. In fact, when I was in grad school studying economics, I had to find and analyze a journal article that contained a significant amount of mathematics. The assignment was to fill in the missing steps between the equations that were presented in the article. When I found that I could not get from the first equation to the second in the article, I took my work to the professor who confirmed my math. It was impossible to move from each equation to the other because the math was all wrong. He then told me that I had stumbled onto what he wanted us to learn from the assignment, and that was the fact that many articles are published saturated in errors that go unnoticed in the editing process. A lot of this research is simply shoddy.

I have to wonder if someone such as Ronald Coase who published very little over the course of his entire career compared with most tenured professors nowadays would have even been granted tenure if he had come along in recent years. Of course, I am in favor of research that actually has some weight and creativity to it such as the work of Coase, but I do not see that the bulk of publications in recent years has been characterized by such high quality work.

Further on this point, the work of most academics throughout history has been accessible to the educated layman or fellow academics of other disciplines. Since World War II, the academic world has progressively narrowed their range of research as they have become more obscure. Virtually no one reads or is influenced by this research. The entire process seems to be an exercise in solipsism. When an academic does write a book or a magazine article that can be read and appreciated by the educated laymen, such a writer is likely to be met with scorn by his colleagues.

Finally, even if all of this research were clear and of high quality, why should students and their parents sacrifice their interests in the student's education in order to subsidize research? When students pay their tuition, they should receive the best teaching available. That is not happening in most American colleges today.

Christian Louboutin

As time goes by, the meaning of Halloween has become contained by means of celebration.


I understand that universities are in trouble and need to raise the cost of tuition, however this does make it difficult for the lower income population to get a degree. I don't have any solutions that would be oppropriate. Each student would have to work harder for there degree.

Maria Payroll

If we are to increase tuition fees for public schools, are we committing ourselves in giving them a better education then? Because if that is the case, then I, as a parent, won't interrogate reasons for increase.


Chris: I found myself agreeing with much that you post. These issues are tough! to generalize about and especially so in a few paragraphs.

I'll back up a bit on lamenting employers insisting on advanced degrees that may not be needed at "entrance level". One reason is that of employee mobility rendering yesteryear's investment in human capital much less attractive than when their employees stayed for ten or more years. The other, ha! almost counter to the expected short stay theory, is that of the employer hoping some of the recruits will stay and have the depth for future grow with the company.

Also, for decades now, either "the economy", changes in manpower needs, or how the Fed twisted the valves, immigration or all of the above, has given us a buyer's market for labor with little reason to deal with trainees.

Difficult to measure/compare a century or more ago. In that era it would have been primarily a small elite who'd complete a 12th grade. A bright kid could read a few books and know most of what was known of econ, chem, and physics while practicing law with other self-taught lawyers. Today, despite our laments about education, and its shortfalls, there are more scientists in some small building near either of our homes than in the nation at the time.

As for remembering how much better it was "back then" I suspect our recall is a bit foggy. I'm reflecting on history that was Euro-centric with Asia left out, the history that created the USSR compressed into a distorted sound bite. My estimate is that today's students who apply themselves in middle class districts with fairly good schools, are better educated than their WWII grandparents. "Left out" are those in poorer districts of underfunded schools who in that earlier time were "forgotten" as they only needed to know enough to hitchhike to one of our heavy mfg towns and go to work.

Yeah, there does seem a change with college as "vocational school". Seems in my own perhaps foggy recall that college talk of teachers and counselors was the liberal arts view of combining a rich and rewarding life with that of being a contributing member of a democratic society dependent on the wisdom and judgment of its people.

As my boy went through school I was a bit taken aback at how often "so you can get a good job" filled that space. And so it is, eh? a generation of WS nation rapers who'd find JFK's "ask not" speech something for PT Barnum's suckers.

"I see the literary, philosophical approach to psychology and economics dying unnecessarily due to the misplaced emphasis on scientistic, quantitave research."

Here, having spent time with a couple young econ grads from a top school it seems the major diff was that of them having adopted a Greenspan-ish nearly religious trust in "the market" solving virtually all social problems -- despite the obvious distortions and manipulations we see. Seems we were taught or thought of capitalism and its principles as a powerful too to be wielded by a functioning democracy to make the best of our scarce resources for the general welfare of all of our people.

As poverty is a grinding and miserable way to spend one's life and "too much" money, we know, does not buy that many units of happiness, today's "all for the rich" and "the market" as the excuse, version of America is not doing well on the general welfare of its citizens score.

In "research vs teaching" perhaps as we plow ahead with much good research needed, the line between R and T should be clarified as the financial burden should not be borne by those trying to go to school. Again.... I'm seeing it all fitting better into a model of largely taxpayer funded education AND research which benefits society in general.

We may well be in an era where higher taxes, better education, more research and more government hiring is better than most of the alternatives. When I talk to young 20 something college students they seem more community spirited than the seemingly self-centered ME-ism of the boomer generation.

Perhaps the organism does respond to its environment and the problems posed?


Thanks for your reply, Jim. I agree with your comments on the financial incentives provided by the Federal government and foundations to do questionable research that diverts funds, time, and energy away from teaching and, perhaps, from more fruitful research. The process you describe also distorts the college curriculum and the range of specializations that are sought after in hiring faculty.





Graves above correctly points out that the vast bulk of published academic research these days is worthless to anyone who works outside the narrow specialty of the author. The emphasis that universities place on such research is at odds with the ostensible goal of any institution of higher learning -- that is, imparting higher learning to its students -- but fits the traditional albeit outmoded publish-or-perish model of academic tenure.

Universities need to ask:

Who reads this stuff?

When a professor takes the time to write and publish this sort of stuff, do the paying customers (students) realize any benefit?

Even setting dollars and cents aside -- who reads this stuff?


just more reactionary, right wing politics in the guise of "economics" Our problems are not that we have too many educated people. Our problems are that we have too few, witness this blog.

For starters, if we are so worried about regressive tax, why not take on the 800 pound guerrilla--the totally regressive FICA taxes that support social security--now there is regressive.

The priority tells its all. This post is just Glen Beckism dressed in a academic robe

beyond that the premise here is backward.

The first question that should be asked is why are states in the deficit position they find themselves? First gage the result then gage the effort

In may state it is clearly because we have taxed too little and not spent enough. Recent studies date our economic decline as having started 50 years ago. Twenty years in the nattering nabobs of negativism passed an amendment limiting growth in state taxes and spending, which were already below national levels.

According to idiot Becker/Poser we ought to be doing great. It is all too the opposite. Why do see no charts comparing regional unemployment and education level in his piece? This would at least give us some ideas on the externalities of education.

This spending cap was, nothing more than a cap on the salaries we pay for faulty and state employees. It was a wage and price control that the right hates, save when it hurts the middle and lower classes.

As a result the best and brightest have all left (or never came). Our state university has declined from top 30 nationally to 110. Only about 18-20 of work force has a useful higher education.

Contrary to Beaker, what we should have done was taxed and invested in higher education, so that today or work force would be 40%+ college educated.

We would then be experiencing the externalities of having an educated work force.

In response to Posner I have considered how we should pay for education. Becker mentions one approach and that is a graduated income tax, which ought to apply to both earned and capital gains income. An education produces both.


John -- took a look at state taxes vs GDP. Kinda interesting, CA that's acting like an impoverished case in dire need of Fed charity ranks only 17th in state burden (and that is likely higher due to their "Prop 13" property tax scheme) and only average in "burden". Texas whose success with K-12 school success ranks barely above the Carolinas not only has the lowest state burden but has a statewide cap on property taxes so low that the lower income districts can not raise enough to properly fund their schools.

A few years ago TX lost the last of its appeals on the issue of equitable and adequate funding of schools in their "left behind" areas and is now operating under court mandates to provide a higher level of equity.

The "education" Governor? Gave further tax breaks to wealthy TX land and oil millionaires over fully funding kindergarten that was half day in many of their 1000 plus school districts.




I really appreciate your posts. You always take a thought or two and expand.

What I find most fascinating is how shallow the "thinking" is on the right, as evidenced by this blog.

The center piece of the present topic is the "regressive" nature of education spending. Thoughtful moderates, like myself, have long been concerned that the "education model" of Clinton was very incomplete and poorly structured. It offered a good life for the successful student but did nothing to allay the justifiable fears and concerns of a lot of current taxpayers, who could see little direct personal benefit. This is the central complaint of the right today. The government works for the elite, but not for me. It works for Wall Street, not main street.

It is a fair criticism.

I thought that Obama understood this when elected. However, he picked a bunch of people, like Larry Summers who is a complete cull, who couldn't execute on the best of ideas. His first two years were thus far below expectations.

It looks like things are start to change. Immelt is the type of person Obama should have had on board two years ago. His WSJ piece says exactly what the problem---a service/consumption economy won't work---we must restore manufacturing Only manufacturing gives one the numbers ---we got 300 million people

Any thinking person understands that we are a "competition" with China much more complex and difficult than WWII.

The right is like the right on the eve of the Civil War, wholly unwilling to change.

Somehow Obama must get back the energy he had in his campaign, and focus the country on the task at hand. We need an energy and drive in life that is just gone. Downtown, in the city where I live, the parking meters next to 30 story buildings are open at noon any day of the week. The economy is sick, sick, sick.

It has been sick since Bush was defeated during the battles of New York and Washington, when he retreated and took all the planes out of the sky, shutting down the economy. 19 people defeated the United States in the most stunning military victory in history.

Since that moment, notwithstanding all the life support we have poured out through tax cuts and deficits, the patient has been barely alive. Look at the charts on capital investment since that day. Really smart investors sensed we had lost the War. They could compare and contrast how the country reacted on 12/8/41 and how it reacted on 9/12/01

Bush and Cheney, chicken hawks, ran and hid in their bunkers and flew around, out of touch, in the sky, fearing for their own lives.
Lincoln would walk out on the ramparts of the forts around Washington, without fear.

A nitwit in Bush's place would have ordered the City police and National Guard in Des Moines and Sante Fe and Nashville, etc. out to the airports, searching every passenger and doing everything to keep the planes flying. Instead, he reacted as a Republican would react in a real war---he froze in the headlights. Americans do not understand that national security risk of a Republican president in a time of war. The test of leadership is not when you attack. Roosevelt and Churchill were great leaders, not because they won the War, but because they held firm in the early days, when civilization was about to vanish from the face of the Earth.

Republicans lack the moral fiber and instinct to know what to do, when attacked.

Time to end. The entire purpose of this blog, of every right wing piece is to polarize. Fukuyama has a great piece in Tuesday's Financial Times on our problem which is that we are "polarized and ideologically rigid." The core of Republican politics, since the party went "wedge," has been to gain power at any costs

If Posner and Becker had a shred of decency left, they would pledge to never again write a polarizing piece like this post. It is not intended or structured to solve anything---it is intended solely to divided and continue to prevent America from solving its problems, so that the the rich whom both service maintain their current position, regardless of the future cost to the country.

Your proofs about CA and ILL are excellent. There problems are less about spending than inadequate taxation. Concerns about pensions and abuse by those who opportunistically won't work, when they can, are real, but the right never meets anyone half way on such issues. Instead of trying to solve problems, the right uses them in an attempt gain political power. Immigration is great example of the same approach on the national level.


You know, I'm in Zurich Switzerland and the tuition here is between 1000-1500 per year, can you believe that? When I was in North America, I almost was crippled by the amount of debt I was accumulating just so I could become "educated". It is true, I agree with @Jim that this has completely become a corporatized measure...

The Glaring Facts

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