why is tuition rising?Since 1978, college tuition has risen by 1,120 percent. Before you shrug and say, “I’ll bet everything has,” let me also point out that, in that same time period, medical care rose only 600 percent and food rose by a relatively tiny 250 percent. So if tuition is shooting up at twice the rate of healthcare (the one we’re always complaining about), then what the heck is happening on college campuses?

The short answer is an ugly combination of over-competitiveness and monumental inefficiency. But that is less than informative. The following five factors behind the rise in college tuition are much more educational (for lack of a better word):

1. College rankings

So someone had the bright idea to pit different universities against each other–you know, because we’re obsessed with competition. So even though we knew deep down inside that there is so much more to colleges than a ranking, when it came time to narrow down our choices for college, we picked up a copy of Forbes’ or Businessweek’s college rankings and we pored over their three-sentence explanations on each school. We fantasized about going to one of the top five schools because, well, they’re in the top five (they must be good!).

And just like that, universities were suddenly in competition with each other in something other than sports and debate club. Competition like this means spending money.

2. Pressure to be the best

Unfortunately, this competitiveness has spawned an environment in which schools feel like they have to one-up their “competitors” in every facet: sports, technology, landscaping, you name it. And keeping up with Harvards and the Yales is proving to be very expensive.

If Stanford University decides to build a state-of-the-art particle accelerator because, like, how cool would that look in the alumni magazine! then particle accelerators suddenly become the standard for any university looking for respect. You just can’t be a real university without one.

Thanks in part to rankings and in part to our constantly escalating demands as a society, everything at a school now has to measure up to every other school. It’s not enough to just have solid learning happening there. The dorms have to be brand-new, the gym has to have the newest equipment, and the buildings can’t be more than twenty years old.

Here’s a newsflash: fads and competition are infinite; money is not.

3. Federal policies

Sadly, attempts by the federal government to cut the cost of attending college have actually caused it to deepen dramatically. For instance, in an attempt to aid low-income students, they’ve meddled with the way private universities dole out their financial aid. This has forced these schools to increase the amount of merit pay and more expensive financial aid packages they use. Ironically, these forms of aid come out of, you guessed it, tuition. Whether they intended to or not, tuition has become a shell game and the one who ends up with bill at the end, no matter how you slice it, is the student.

4. Sluggish organization

Universities aren’t well-oiled business machines. Rather the opposite, they are usually tangled, bureaucratic mess where deans, boards of directors, presidents, and other entities come together to make financial decisions while trying to compete in every way possible. With so many layers of approval to work through, schools are sluggish at best in dealing with cost increases.

5. Pushy alumni

So imagine that Miss Goldenbottom, a distinguished graduate of Brainburg University and quadrillionaire, donates a few million to the school every year. But then, one year, she learns that the university is cutting out the Interpretive Dance program–her pet project–because it is no longer feasible. Miss Goldenbottom won’t stand for it–she throws a fit and threatens to remove her funding unless they keep the program. Reluctantly, the school acquiesces, deciding to pay for the defunct program by raising tuition just a smidgen. Miss Goldenbottom wins and you lose.

Well, Miss Goldenbottom is fictional, but this situation isn’t. Alumni who throw their weight around at their alma mater for their own pet projects are costing college students big.

So how can colleges or college students fight this mad rush toward a cliff? The answer would be too drastic for us to suggest. And these aren’t even all the factors. To get the full download, read this informative report.

Are you wrestling with the high cost of college? Join the conversation in the comments below!

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