Where Jeff Selingo Is Wrong About College Costs

“…rather than always looking at the revenue side of the ledger by figuring out how to attract more students with marketing gimmicks and constant discounting, colleges should start studying the expense side as well for ways to lower their costs”.

From Forget the Marketing Gimmicks: It’s Time for Colleges to Cut Costs by Jeff Selingo, 5/26/17 Washington Post.

Jeff Selingo is not wrong about the need for colleges to look not only at revenues, but costs as well. Right?

After all, who could argue that the amenities arms race (fancy dorms, lazy rivers etc.) and low-levels of classroom utilization are driving college costs to unaffordable levels? 

Well…I’ll argue with Jeff.  

And full disclosure, I consider Jeff Selingo to be among our most important higher ed voices – and also just a great guy.

The first problem I have with Jeff’s argument is that he focuses only on costs, and not on value.

Yes, college costs are too high – and student debt levels crippling – but this is true mostly for those who start but don’t finish college.

A college graduate with a bachelor’s degree has an average lifetime earnings of $700,000 more than someone who started college but did not finish.  Advanced degree holders (for which you first need a bachelors) will earn more than a million dollars more over their lifetime.

That $700,000 (and $1 million) figure tells me that real problem with colleges is not costs, but graduation rates. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the 6 year graduation rate from first institution attended for first-time, full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students at 4-year postsecondary institutions is only 59 percent.  

Students at private, non-profit schools do much better – with 6 year graduation rates at 66 percent.  

The more selective the institution, the more likely a student is to graduate.  At colleges that accept 25 percent or less of students, fully 88 percent will graduate within 6 years.  From…

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