Data Visualization on College Costs

The Times published an interesting visualization today on the cost of colleges. I invite you to take a look at it here.

The bottom line is that the cost of college is a serious issue in this country, but not quite in the way that many people think. Colleges with intimidating list prices aren’t the biggest problem, because they often offer substantial financial aid and have very high graduation rates. Low-income students at these colleges certainly don’t have it easy. Many initially struggle to fit in on elite campuses. Yet the bulk of them go on to graduate, emerge with manageable amounts of debt and get good jobs.


The real problem is elsewhere: among for-profit colleges and public colleges with lower list prices but much lower graduation rates. They often produce students with debt and no degree, which is a miserable combination.

Maybe that’s the key there. It might seem like a better play to pay less uprfont for schooling, but you pay a lot more in the long-term, either in debt or in reduced income from not graduating. To use an imprecise analogy, in a way it’s like buying a cheaper mattress. You’ll walk out with more in your wallet but your back will tell the story over time. And it will hurt.

You know how I see for-profit schools, which are not just a problem ethically but also because they simply rarely work. But the true tragedy here is public colleges. Not all of them, of course, but those with fewer resources and less ability to support their low-income students on the path to graduation. Those students thought they were getting a deal, but not all colleges are cut from the same cloth, and price should only be one part of the puzzle. Not to pretend it’s easy to pay for such schools – the entire system is broken – but it’s not as cut-and-dried as it seems at first glance.