Editorial: College costs creep up slowly

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, May 22, 2012

University of Minnesota officials were careful to note, when they made their annual tuition increase proposal last week, that the 3.5 percent increase for resident undergraduates would be the smallest in recent years. A smaller-than-usual increase may be good news, of a sort, but it does nothing to address the soaring costs of college — a cost that saddles many young Americans with crushing debt.

The U is far from alone. Most universities and colleges increase tuition year after year, partly because of decreasing government subsidies but perhaps also because more than ever a college degree is an essential ticket to economic success. That’s basic supply and demand. Yet the increases come at a time when they often seem to make little sense. The annual inflation rate in 2011 averaged 3.16 percent; in 2010, it was 1.64 percent; in 2009 inflation was -0.34 percent. But most institutions of higher education increased tuition during those years. Tuition increases also come at a time when all but the wealthiest students graduate with education debt that will burden them for decades.

At one time, affordable higher education was a basic part of the American dream. Now that dream is each year becoming less likely to come true. No doubt the U’s new president, Eric Kaler, had to consider a multitude of factors in proposing next school year’s 3.5 percent increase. We can’t help wondering, though, when tuition and the cost of borrowing money for tuition, will spell an end to the dream of higher education for most Americans.

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