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May 18, 2011 4:09 PM The Value and Price of College

By Daniel Luzer

No coat

According to that recent Pew Research Center report on college, Americans believe two different, interesting things about higher education:

A majority of Americans (57 percent) believe that the higher education system in the country fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend, according to a survey released Sunday by the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of those polled said that college is too expensive for most Americans. But among Americans who are college graduates, 86 percent said that college had been a good investment for them personally.

But, as Hans Bader at the Washington Examiner points out, that’s not actually a contradiction. What really going on here is that “the higher education system in the country” and the “college” that all Americans with college degrees attended is not the same thing. As Bader explains:

As Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds notes, most people got their college educations long ago, when tuition was lower. As he points out, “college was much less expensive not that long ago.” Tuition has exploded in recent years, along with student debt.
As George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy notes, “long-term average earnings for individuals with BA degrees have not risen much and in the last few years have dipped.

Right, like if I bought a jacket for $70 that jacket might be perfectly appropriate for winter. If in ten years the jacket cost $3,000 that would not mean that the jacket was “worthless” and I should just go without a coat all winter. No, it would simply mean that the jacket was dreadfully overpriced.

But I’d still need a jacket.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer