The next bubble, college tuition edition

David Brooks makes several good points while asking the basic question of whether the cost of college is worth it. Money quote:

This is an unstable situation. At some point, parents are going to decide that $160,000 is too high a price if all you get is an empty credential and a fancy car-window sticker.

Of course, if you are pricing Duke for little Johnny, you recognize $160,000 as a bargain (the cost of attendance for Duke is $59,343 for 2012-13; our expansive financial aid policies are contained in the link).

I think the practical definition of a bubble is people are rushing to desperately spend their money on something up until the moment where almost no one is willing (or able) to do so. You don’t really know it was a bubble until it pops, but you can likely get some hints. This chart from mymoneyblog may be a hint of sorts.

I have an 11th grader and now view college tuition from a slightly less theoretical perspective, and a month ago we went to New York City visiting colleges, and have since visited more, with more to come.  At the first visit, a parent said her kids’ first choice was Duke, so I wasn’t about to identify myself as a professor at Duke, and I have discovered that answering the question, “what do you do?” by saying “I am a teacher” is a good neutral way to engage the other parents on college tours without being asked to write a letter of recommendation for a kid you have never met. Under this guise, it has been fascinating listening to the parents talk about what they expect in terms of student/faculty interaction. (The list of possible schools constructed by my daughter is nearly schizophrenic in terms of how different they are as institutions, but I have mostly been shutting up and trying to listen to her with lots of encouragement along these lines from my wife).

We have visited small liberal arts schools and major research Universities. The oddest thing has been my general take that parents seem to expect the same type of interaction between students at professors at both types of institutions. I can see upsides of both types of schools, but both the amount and type of interaction between students and professors differs; they aren’t offering the same thing. When figuring out if something is “worth it” you need to understand what it is that you are about to purchase.

update: this is cross posted at the Reality Based Community and this comment is a fair and important point.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy at Duke University (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute). I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy, and currently serve as Chair of Duke's University Priorities Committee (UPC). My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

12 Responses to The next bubble, college tuition edition

  1. Frank Hill says:

    The ‘Coming Bubble’?

    We have 3 in the rear-view window (1 still going) and they were all public universities (1 out-of-state) and we hope we can help our son with his med school debt load somehow someday.

    It is more like the ‘Incredible Blob from Outer Space’ bubble that has gone on unabated for the past 30 years. Educational inflation would be square 1 had it not been superceded by the health care explosion of the same time period.

    Good luck with your kids. Wake offers full rides for debate students…so if you have an argumentative type, look them up

  2. Pingback: Bubble U: High Point University? « freeforall

  3. Pingback: More on college tuition as a bubble « freeforall

  4. Pingback: More on College Tuition as a Bubble « The Reality-Based Community

  5. Pingback: Does where you go to college matter? « freeforall

  6. Pingback: More on is college worth it « freeforall

  7. Pingback: The ‘Is College Worth It?’ Meme is Everywhere « The Reality-Based Community

  8. Pingback: Posts on the cost of college « freeforall

  9. Hi, Neat post. There is a problem along with your web site in internet
    explorer, could check this? IE nonetheless is the market leader and a large portion of folks
    will leave out your wonderful writing due to this
    problem.

  10. Pingback: April 21st blogging the last 4 years | freeforall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: