College Tuition Increases Explained
Colleges are full of it: Behind the three-decade scheme to raise tuition, bankrupt generations, and hypnotize the media – Salon.com
Let me repeat, as a fact of some significance, that the great tuition price spiral began in 1981. That was the same year in which Ronald Reagan brought his jolly band of deregulators to Washington, in which Congress enacted the landmark Kemp-Roth tax cut, and in which the air-traffic controllers’ union went down to humiliating defeat. In 1981 the old order was crumbling, the soldiers of the free market were strapping on their Adam Smith neckties, and colleges all across America were deciding they needed to jack up tuition prices far in excess of the rate of inflation, something they had not done before.
When considering the significance of this point of beginning, a 1987 inquiry into the tuition problem threw up its hands. “Nobody knows why tuition increases lagged behind consumer prices in the 1970s and jumped ahead in the 1980s,” according to an Associated Press summary. But in retrospect I think the answer is obvious. It happened then because these things are all related: deregulation, tax cuts, de-unionization and outrageous tuition inflation are all part of the same historical turn. I acknowledge that, on the surface, this is not an obvious connection: The Reagan administration was always hostile to universities and loved to bemoan the tuition spiral; what’s more, over the period in question, the universities themselves embraced a hyper-leftist public image that helped them distract attention from the catastrophe they have visited upon the nation’s young.
But if we think of these things as part of a larger ideological shift, they all start to make sense. Universities were capable of doing in the ’70s what they did in the ’80s (and still are doing today), but maybe they didn’t do it then because Americans thought of universities in a different light in those days.