There’s an incredible graph here that compares the real cost of a college education to the real cost of dental care between 1947 and 2006. The two track perfectly together. This doesn’t mean that I’m crazy to fear the arrival my daughter’s imminent college bills. As the two economists who made that graph suggest:
[T]he upward trend of college cost has been accelerated by changes in income distribution over the last 30 years. People with high levels of education have seen big income gains. Universities rely on highly educated people, as do hospitals, law offices and dental practices, to name a few. Rising income inequality is a force for rising cost in any industry like higher education. And rising income inequality also drives affordability problems.
While I agree that the general cost increase in college education is more reasonable than most suppose, what I don’t buy here is the notion that I’m somehow driving this cart. I feel a lot more as if I’m at the bottom of the inequality curve, not the top. The increased cost of college education has come despite the fact that salaries for many of us doesn’t even match the rate of inflation anymore. On the matter of starting salaries, consider this post from College Misery that made my jaw drop. Throw contingent faculty into the mix here and obviously this position gets even stronger.
I have dental insurance (thank goodness). I don’t have college insurance, despite the fact that I teach at one. Some places may end up out of reach for my child not because they’re too expensive in the objective sense, but because my income makes it much harder for me to contribute as much to her education as I think I should.