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Tuition Rising: Why College Costs So Much, With a new preface

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674009882
ISBN-10: 0674009886
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Unlike businesses, which strive to keep costs at a minimum, universities must spend to make themselves as attractive as possible to their constituents. Ehrenberg, a senior administrator and professor of economics at Cornell University, examines the factors influencing the spiraling tuition costs of the past decade: the need to spend money to have the best facilities, faculties, and learning tools in order to attract the best and brightest students, the need to spend for athletics and other programs to keep alumni support strong, the self-governing nature of university faculty, and the increasing pressure to spend in order to increase ratings in external publications. Observes Ehrenberg, "As long as lengthy lines of highly qualified applicants keep knocking at its door no institution has a strong incentive to unilaterally end the spending race." This highly readable examination of the American higher education system is an excellent addition to any public or academic library.DMark Bay, Univ. of Houston Lib.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Ron Ehrenberg's comprehensive and important analysis of rising college costs is based on both his professional expertise as an economist and his practical experience as a member of the central administration at one university: Cornell. With insight, candor, and rigor he examines the arms race' among selective universities, reviewing the role of each of the major participants-trustees, presidents, deans, faculty, local, state and federal governments, and, not least, tuitionpaying students-in ratcheting up the level of tuition. Pointing to the fate of hospitals and medical centers, he cautions that self-regulation and institutional restraint are needed to prevent loss of public confidence and possible federal regulation. This book deserves widespread attention, both within the academic community and beyond it. (Frank Rhodes, former President, Cornell University)

Balanced, sensible, and informed, Tuition Rising is a valuable addition to the literature on higher education. Giving the reader a lot of very useful empirical analysis, Ehrenberg demonstrates the value of being an economist. Anyone about to become a college administrator will want to read this book with great care. (Henry Rosovsky, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and author of The University: An Owner's Manual)

Ehrenberg demonstrates in convincing detail that private universities do not easily make economically efficient choices. The culprits are variously loose budget constraints, relatively little hierarchical authority, decentralized units that do not share the universities' goals, poor institutional design, poor public policies, political vulnerability, and the pious blindness of faculty. Tuition Rising is interesting, well-argued, and provocative. It ought to he required reading for presidents, provosts, and trustees of elite private research universities. (Michael Rothschild, Dean, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University)

What makes Tuition Rising so valuable and so much fun is its combination of facts, analysis, and administrative war stories. So, for instance, the importance to a college of national rankings, like US News's, is supported by careful econometric analysis (kept in the background, as are all technical jargon and argument), put under a microscope to understand the reasons for their often-quirky rankings, and then followed into Cornell's business school to see how "managing to the rankings"--the collegiate version of "teaching to the test"--can make sensible university-wide administration very difficult. (Gordon Winston, Professor of Economics, Williams College)

Economists are sometimes accused of possessing "an irrational passion for dispassionate rationality." This book describes what a first-rate economist learned in trying to introduce greater rationality to the decision-making of a great university, a place that emerges as passionate and ambitious, but markedly reluctant to make hard choices. The account is sobering, illuminating, and immensely entertaining. Both those who love universities and those who love rationality will enjoy this book. (Michael McPherson, President, Macalester College)

In Tuition Rising: Why College Costs So Much, Ronald Ehrenberg provides a concise and compelling explanation of the influence of academic governance processes on rising university expenditures and tuition charges… His book is a rare and insightful primer on the intersection of governance and finance. (Edward P. St. John Academe 2003-09-01)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 30, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674009886
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674009882
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A Customer on July 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
Tuition Rising is serious disappointment. The entire book is a long-winded justification of why college cost so much. Instead of exploring on a few fundamental social or governmental changes affecting college tuition, the author simply discusses in-depth each expense that schools have. For example, there is a whole chapter on parking and transportation, and another chapter just about cooling systems.
While Ehrenberg rambles on about the minutia of college finances, he never really explains why colleges' expenses rise at a much faster rate than other sectors of the economy. Many businesses must pay for transportation, cooling, and everything else that colleges do, do not have skyrocketing prices.
Tuition Rising does not ever mention the possibility that government financial aid programs have given universities the green light to spend excessively, since many students can get loans or grants to cover the cost increases. College costs are no longer subject to free-market economics, which generally causes prices to be low. In fact, Ehrenberg thinks the problem of college affordability can be alleviate with more federal financial aid!
This book is at best a boring compilation of college expenditures. Worse yet, Tuition Rising makes high tuition increases seem unavoidable, or even justified.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Ronald Ehrenberg builds his analysis on his considerable experience as an economist and a senior administrator working in finance at Cornell University. He successfully manages to link his own practical experience in one school with larger issues facing higher education in general.

The title is a little misleading: The book is not only about tuition but about every source of revenue and every expense that a university or college faces. Ehrenberg thus presents a complex analysis, though in terms that any attentive reader can understand. This is no small achievement. The anecdotes of his experiences at Cornell really make this book fascinating to read, but do not rob it of its general applicability.

I've worked at an institution of higher education not that much different from Cornell for more than 20 years, and I learned a lot from reading this book. I'd like to give it to every member of the faculty and staff at my school so that they would understand better the constraints under which we all operate -- and have a healthier sense too of the challenges to come. Legislators and parents (and students too) ought to learn from it. It is going to take more than one constituency working together to fix the problem he describes.

Unlike another reviewer here, I did not see this book at all as an attempt to justify high college expenses but to explain them. Ehrenberg is very clear that many factors are to blame: from federal policies on financial aid and the reimbursement of indirect research expenses to recalcitrant faculty members who lack the will to cut anything from their budgets, from the increasingly popular college ratings game to local activists who distrust any activity the nonprofit-in-their midst undertakes. He even occasionally includes himself among the culprits.
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This is both a scholarly and personal account of the much-discussed rise in college costs. The author is an economist, one of whose specialties is higher education. He has served as a senior administrator and (for a considerable period) faculty member at Cornell. Hence, his general observations and conclusions are complemented by more detailed accounts of the procedures in place at his home institution.

This is a useful way of proceeding, for universities are not anxious to share the specific details of their budgets and do not often explain the private negotiations (or maneuvers) that serve as the backdrop for their public actions.

The book is conservative in the sense that it is largely accepting of `the way things are', though it offers suggestions for efficiencies or more rational ways of proceeding at the margins. The principal cause of the rise in college costs is the academic `arms race' in which the top universities compete with one another for the best faculty, the best students, the best programs and the best facilities. That competition drives up costs. It is aided by certain forms of federal support, by plentiful endowments, dramatic developments in information technology, increased student applications and conscious policies (need-blind admissions, e.g.). The federal government is a player here, of course, with increased regulation, reduced coverage of indirect costs, Title IX and the prohibition of fixed retirement ages.

If one wants a general account of what has transpired since the early 70's, with some interesting details with regard to Cornell, this is a fine book. The author is aware, of course, that he is only describing a tiny subset of U.S. higher education, but it is that subset which often draws the most attention.
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By A Customer on February 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a high school guidance counselor I can see the immediate value of Mr. Ehrenberg's book. In fact, it is the best book on the subject which I have read. It should also be of tremendous value to parents of college bound children and to college administrators. The language is highly accessible and the author makes his points clearly and succinctly. This book is a welcome addition to the field, and perhaps the very best of its kind.
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