10 December 2008

But why are college costs so high?

I don't know what it is with journalists' failure to ask certain questions. David Broder writes:

Of all the promises Barack Obama made during his campaign, none received more cheers and applause than his vow to make college more affordable and accessible for America's young people.

This was obviously appealing to youths themselves, many of whom now find themselves, such as Barack and Michelle Obama did, burdened with debt when they finish their educations. But equally, it was attractive to parents and grandparents who worry about how the next generations in their families can afford the education that is essential to their future well-being.


I, too, noticed His Beatitude's promise to make college affordable (by divine fiat, no doubt). He's going to make college more affordable because everyone, one supposes, should have a college education. And why not, considering the squat they won't be learning in twelve years of free public education?

However Obama Epiphanes forces college affordability upon us all, one question that doesn't get asked, much less answered is why are college costs so high? One notes the failure to ask a similar question about healthcare. That, osetensibly, is because people who know the things we all should know understand that greed explains the high cost of healthcare. Apparently, greed doesn't explain the high cost of college. Professors and adminstrators are not greedy, unlike doctors and, especially, pharmaceutical executives. We all know that.

It is the general tendency, depending upon the relation of supply to demand, for prices to go down, not up and up and up. When I was a kid, there was this VCR that I wanted; it came with a camera, so you could make your own movies. This was really something back then; now you can do it with a cell phone, a cell phone which does not cost the (are you ready for this?) $1,200.00 that VCR with camera would have cost me in 1980. Twelve hundred dollars. A normal VCR would have cost me, if I remember correctly, about $800.00. The same type of VCR today costs less than $100.00. I picked up a Blue Ray a couple of weeks ago for a fraction of what a VCR cost in 1980.

In fact, let's take a look at those prices in relation to inflation. That $1,200.00 VCR (in 1980 dollars) would cost $2980.00 in today's dollars (assuming inflation as the only relevant variable). But it doesn't. The contemporary equivalent costs just less than $1000.00, which would have been about $400.00 in 1980.

The same is true of the iPhone. The 4G model that shipped last year was something like $600.00. Now you can pick up an 8G for about $200.00 -- two hundred bucks, one-third the price for twice the storage!

This is true just about across the board. But not when it comes to healthcare. Not when it comes to college education. I wonder why?

But why ask, "Why?" when Barak Obama will simply make -- make -- college affordable? We don't need to know why it's unaffordable. We need to know only that he will, for his good pleasure and by the sheer force of his will, change this. This means price will irrelevant. But when price is irrelevant -- no object -- it aways goes up. So here, 10 December 2008, we know that whatever Obama Epiphanes does, the price of college education will rise. That's what happens when price is no object. The job can go to the highest or the lowest bidder; it just doesn't matter.

I wonder if this change will involve salary caps for professors and adminstrators. Those people make a lot more money than I do; and that's just not fair. No one should make more money than anyone else: we're all working equally as hard. Except for CEOs, who don't do anything -- they should work for free.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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