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I really welcome the efforts of this blog to address the rising cost of college tuition and I am glad that you have a healthy outlook on the future of student loan debt. However, I wonder about a few of your assumptions here. Does your statement that the rise in average pay for college graduates in the 1980s take into account the inflation of the 70s and early 80s? In addition, it seems unlikely that the 40 percent rise in salary disparity between college and high school graduates is related to a rise in the value of a college education. The change could just as easily be accounted for by the rapid devaluing of a high school education over the past 20 years. Thus, although the value of college may not have really changed at all relative to the changes in how high school graduates are perceived. I also don't understand your claim that competition between institutions and other private/public employers over people with PhDs is a significant part of the dramatic rise in tuition over the past 40 years. If anything, it's an employer's market and has been for some time. In 1991, a mere 23.2 percent of PhD candidates found academic jobs by graduation. In 2001 that number was reduced to 19.4 percent. See It's true that some PhDs are recruited for government jobs or in other sectors...but there are not that many jobs that require the specialized analytical skills of a person with a PhD. Given that, I'm wondering how you see competition for PhDs as a factor leading to higher salaries and thus higher tuition. Finally, it's unclear by what you mean when you say colleges are providing a "higher quality" of education now...I would agree with Posner that quality has probably not changed much in the past 30-40 years. And if it has, I'm not sure that "average increase in earnings" is an appropriate way to measure that. Rather, costs seem to be driven up by the effort to make schools ever more luxurious -- what Posner calls "pandering" to rich kids. There is a greater demand for quality dining options, on-campus entertainment, state-of-the-art housing, and the like -- all of which have nothing to do with the delivery of education. Thus, although we may have more luxurious campuses, the quality of education has not changed.
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May 17, 2013