Colleges Got 12 Times More Expensive in One Generation! What can we do about it?

Tom Sine —

College DebtWelcome back to school! Mother Jones Magazine has reported that college has gotten 12 times more expensive in a single generation.

“It wasn’t always like this: the cost of undergraduate education is 12 times higher than it was 35 years ago, far out-pacing inflation. While the Index price of college tuition and fees skyrocketed by more than 1,122 percent since 1978, the cost of medical care rose less than 600% and the cost of housing and food went up less than 300%.”   Mother Jones Magazine

Having worked in higher education most of my adult life I am, with many of you, alarmed at the escalating costs for those in the Millennial generation and their parents. I’m particularly concerned about how the soaring costs will make it impossible for many students from more marginal economic backgrounds to afford a college education.

I am particularly concerned about some of the costs that students are facing that I suspect are not necessary. For example as a result of a “marketing arms race to the top,” in private higher education, many colleges are building ever more luxurious dormitories and more elaborate food courts. Some campuses I’ve been on have food courts with 6 to 8 different mini- restaurants offering everything from pasta bar to build your own burrito. Reportedly one Christian college imported a French pastry chef to upgrade their offerings in their dessert bar.

warner.kidsThe cost of these ever more luxurious dorms and elaborate food courts are one of the major causes in the soaring costs of higher education for this generation. Recently Christine and I were invited to speak in a class on urban ministries at Warner Pacific College in Portland Oregon. Andrea Cook, the president at Warner invited this into her office to share a bit about how their college is seeking to reduce costs.

She explained that Warner is seeking to serve a much more intercultural population of students that don’t always come from more affluent middle-class families. As a consequence they are one of the first private Christian colleges I’ve found that have totally done away with their food court. Instead they offer an old-fashioned cafeteria line that offer students a couple options instead of a host of selections.

To reduce housing costs Andrea explained that Warner Pacific College is collaborating with local apartment house owners to offer less expensive accommodations for their students.

Speaking at three Mennonite colleges lately I proposed another creative possibility. Instead of offering age segregated luxury dorms I propose that they build intergenerational cohousing on their campuses. I proposed that they create cohousing that not only accommodates students but also some faculty and staff and some retired couples from their immediate community.

This creative approach to student housing would not only reduce costs to students but offer an intergenerational living experience of gardening, preparing food and sharing life together. This experience could be a tremendous asset to many students who are going to need to imagine new ways to live after they graduate that both reduces costs ad increases community.

Where have you seen private or public colleges create new ways to reduce costs for this generation? What are your ideas of ways to reduce educational costs so that students are not saddled with an average of $33,000 worth of debt for private college education?

Send me your ideas today.