This week I decided to follow up on a graph I saw in the Wall Street Journal that compared college tuition and out-of-pocket costs to the costs of medical care and overall living costs. See the graph at the bottom. All I can say is, Wow. The red line in the chart goes from the year 2000 to 2016. It shows that costs of higher education increased by just short of 150%. Imagine if your waistline increased by 150%.
We all complain about the rising costs of medical care. It is the yellow line in the chart, and it rose by about 75% over those same years. Apparently a nice course in the liberal arts is worth a lot more than a course in biology. Okay that's a distortion, but what the graph says is that the costs of college education went up twice as fast as medical care costs from 2000 to 2016. And then there is all that other stuff you buy -- all those silly aged steaks, lovely cars, and ovens. The overall Consumer Price Index increased by under 50%.
It is pretty clear from the pretty graph that higher ed spending is the winner. As a former professor, I resent that. Where was all that money when I was sweating it out in my office without electricity and running water?
Mean conservatives have looked at all this and have come to some conclusions. They see a connection between the ease of getting loans for college, tax benefits, and the expansion of grants and scholarships. Some of these big meanies are proposing a crazy thing. Maybe if the government quit favoring higher ed so much, the price might not go up another 150% in the next years. Crazy idea, eh?
But Junior has to go to school, right? School? Are you kidding? Don't scream at me but I remember what it was like to go to school. Jim and I roomed together for three years in what might now be considered a Georgia prison. Back in those olden days there was no student union, there was not even an espresso maker or a StairMaster in our dorm's break room. Basically there was nothing in the break room except for a couch. No TV. No beer. No JD. No computer games. The entire floor of our dorm shared one pay telephone and one bathroom. We had to pass 18 hours per quarter to graduate in four years and therefore the lack of almost all amenities was necessary since we actually had to study. Study, really?
Today, universities are not spending the money on the faculty -- or at least not on most of them. In fact, the new wave in higher ed is to minimize the use of regular tenure-track faculty. But they do seem to have plenty of money for planting and replanting all the flower beds each season and for building walls, monuments, and other things of architectural beauty. We have more trees on the IU campus than Redwood Park. We build new academic and other campus buildings faster than the NFL can build domed stadiums. Clearly we want the alumni to be comfy when they go to sporting events and we want helicopter parents to enjoy their spring strolls around campus when they come to harass their lovely children's professors. We build luxurious dorms faster than Starbuck's builds coffee shops. Why would a student want to graduate if she could stay in these palaces located within meters of favorite student watering holes?
The kids do not get jobs and the ones who run out of courses to take leave campus and move in with their parents. Meanwhile, the nation has a shortage of plumbers and programmers. Luckily many of these unemployed students are excellent at creativity activities and learning how to discover themselves as they go on their graduation trips to Luxembourg.
Sorry folks, but this old codger does not like this brand of change. I'd rather see our country surging ahead as a model of innovation and technological progress. I'd like to see adults worrying less about the creature comforts of their kids and helping them better understand the values of things like history, economics, accounting, hard work, patience, and so on. Removing some of the government support might lead to more demanding consumers who require that universities get back to doing what they should be doing. In the meantime, if college is too expensive, young people might try going to a local community college where they might learn something and also gain a marketable skill. They can go to Luxembourg later on their own own dimes.