Why is an American College Education so Expensive?

The high cost of education in the USA is not a new phenomenon, indeed before most of the current colleges existed people were complaining about the huge expense.  Indeed it was reported in the New York Times in 1875 that men were spending more to educate their sons for one year  than they had spent in four years.accessing BBC iPlayer with DNS


The reason was not huge college fees, or expensive books but the writer claimed it was purely decadence.  Expensive apartments, sports and dining out were cited as the main reasons for the huge cost of obtaining a college education in 1875.

In current day USA, the costs of a college education have been steadily rising and there’s a growing sense of unease that it’s becoming more and more unaffordable.   The present day statistics are shocking, the US now spends more on college than virtually any other country in the world.  Various reports including from the OECD have found that obtaining a college degree in the USA costs more than almost any other place on the planet.

It’s not just lower income families who are struggling to cover the costs of education.  The levels are extremely high and many people are only coping with many family contributions, and a combination of loans, grants and other assistance.  Most developed countries have costs around $15000 a year per student, however in the USA it’s about twice that cost.   There’s no other large country that comes even close to this figure even in countries like the UK which are becoming increasingly concerned about the rising costs.    The only country which has a similar costs is a much smaller one – Luxembourg however the tuition is actually free because it is subsidized by the Government.

There are of courses two main questions that probably arise in the minds of both potential students and their parents – why is it so expensive and is it worth it!

After all the USA is no more expensive than many developed countries indeed in many basic cost of living areas it’s actually much cheaper. Obviously this varies depending on location but there’s nothing here that directly points to the huge costs differences.

There are some factors which obviously contribute, the US spends more than anyone on student welfare, health, housing and transportation which are classified in most reports as ancillary services.  However these only represent a proportion of the costs and it is estimated the US student  will spend about $3300 on these every year which is about double in most other countries.

There are of course lots of ways to reduce these costs, for example community colleges are becoming more and more popular because they’re more affordable.  However there is still some stigma involved in College education and a mentality among some that ‘you get what you pay for’, slowly though that is changing simply because of the huge sums involved.  Students in the UK since the abolition of grants and introduction of student loads are frequently studying in colleges near their homes.  Indeed many are even taking much of their course online, indeed you can take them from abroad if you invest in a simple VPN or the circumvention tool mentioned in this post about the BBC DNS service.

Why such a large cost difference?  Well one of the main reasons, is that US college students are likely to live away from home.  This increases expenses greatly because they have to supply all their food and accommodation requirements as opposed to many European students who live at home while studying in college.    What’s more these services are often supplied by the colleges themselves often at a premium rate.  Also there are many other services that are provided which also cost the student additional amounts.   However the majority of costs are simply on core educational operations and the expenses are due to things like high costs of salaries.



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