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Why Does College Cost So Much? Hardcover – November 17, 2010

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Editorial Reviews


"[The authors] really know what they're talking about."--Stanley Fish, The New York Times

"A book that should be read by anyone with even a passing interest in the answer"--Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalaster College, writing in The Huffington Post

"Robert Archibald and David Feldman tackle the dominant question facing higher education leaders, state and federal policy makers, families and students, and provide striking and surprising evidence and conclusions on the much-debated question that is the title of their book. In the process of proposing a radically new way of financing college and university education, they present an elegant history of how we got here, the financial problems we currently face, and a possible way out of these dilemmas. This eminently readable book warrants the thoughtful attention of all who care (and worry) about the future of higher education."--David W. Breneman, University Professor and Newton and Rita Meyers Professor in Economics of Education, University of Virginia

"Robert Archibald and David Feldman write calmly and rationally about an issue that too frequently generates sensationalist headlines, as well as poorly reasoned and counterproductive proposals. Whether or not you agree with the details of their ideas for reforming the way we finance higher education, you will learn from their analysis, question your pre-conceived notions, and think more clearly about how our nation can best assure that a quality higher education is affordable for all who are equipped and motivated to benefit from it."--Sandy Baum, Professor Emerita of Economics, Skidmore College

About the Author

Robert B. Archibald is Chancellor Professor of Economics and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Together with David Feldman, he has published widely on the economics of higher education.

David H. Feldman is Professor of Economics and Public Policy, and Chair of the Department of Economics at the College of William & Mary. He has also been honored with a University Professorship for Teaching Excellence. In addition to his work with Robert Archibald on higher education he writes about the international economy.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199744505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199744503
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #618,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Monica J. Kern VINE VOICE on December 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the plethora of books about the "crisis" in higher education, Archibald and Feldman's book serves as a welcome relief from the sensationalism and reliance on anecdotal evidence that permeates the literature. As a college professor myself, with two children poised to enter college in a couple of years, I have read most of the recent volumes published on the sorry state of higher education (e.g., "Higher Education?", "The Five Year Party," "Real Education," among others). While many of these books make for entertaining reading in their descriptions of students who don't study, professors who don't teach, and administrators who line their pockets with exorbitant salaries, what has been missing for a long time in the higher education debate is a reasoned analysis based on empirical data.

"Why does college cost so much?" provides exactly that reasoned analysis. I won't repeat the details of their argument here, but essentially Archibald and Feldman present a compelling argument that--contrary to public opinion--college costs have not escalated wildly out of control but rather track closely the increases in prices for services offered by highly skilled providers, an increase that is inextricably linked to the gains in labor productivity in other domains (a phenomenon termed "cost disease"). Much of the book is devoted to making that argument a heck of a lot clearer than I just did in that one-sentence summary, as well as offering ample empirical data to back their argument up.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a lucid and measured attempt to put the `cost of college attendance' in an appropriate context. Eschewing the apocalyptic outcries from other commentators (including those in the popular press) they argue that the `unaffordability crisis' has been much exaggerated. In fact, college costs should not be seen in the context of, e.g., durable goods (whose prices have indeed diminished) but rather in the context of the products of service industries (lawyers, dentists) which require highly-educated practitioners. Seen in that light, college costs track very nicely with other service industry costs and should not be causes of alarm.

The authors also deflate some of the popular outcries by pointing to the realities of actual pricing. Very few people pay the top-dollar charges of elite institutions and they can generally afford to do so without significant pain. Top institutions have deep financial-aid coffers and tuitions are discounted significantly. While the COFHE schools discourage merit-based support, e.g., their need-based support is generous; at the very top schools the support is largely (or even exclusively) in the form of grants rather than loans. Many distinguished private institutions and public institutions, generally, often offer merit-based support as well. Universities should not be thought of as Bentley dealerships, with prices beyond the means of all but the most wealthy consumers. On the contrary, they are much more like airplanes in which every passenger is paying a different price, in some cases a very modest price.

Moreover, much more attention should be paid to cost, not price. The actual cost of education is generally far higher than even the top rack-rate tuition.
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24 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Sullivan on December 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is the very best book on the rising cost of American higher education ever--it's that simple. I am President Emeritus of a very selective liberal arts college who has spent much of his professional life both managing higher education costs, responsibly I believe, and finding all the ways I could to invest in those things that make the greatest difference in student learning--all in the face of a relentless critical narrative regarding college costs that was largely disconnected from evidence of the underlying dynamics of higher education economics.

Archibald and Feldman take what they call an "aerial view" rather than looking at the cost issue from the institution out to explain the rise in higher education costs over the last 50 years or so. Higher education is expensive because a very high (roughly 2/3) proportion of their employees are highly educated. Especially since the 1980's, demand for highly educated workers has grown faster than the supply, driving the cost of employing them up. At the same time, rapid advances in technology in support of teaching and research--technologies that deepen, enrich, and even change the nature of what can be learned and must be learned rather than allow the substitution of capital for labor--that are necessary to be both competitive and effective (able to educate the graduates for the jobs our economy has and needs now rather than for the jobs of the past)have added new layers of cost. When I first began teaching in 1971, the only computer on campus was an IBM 1620 that only a handful of people could use. Maintaining the library collection was the most expensive non-personnel educational cost of the college.
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