The main issue with most discussions of the topic is that "college" is a bewildering array of realities; it's like using the word "business" to lump all for-profit economic activity together.

The Ivies are worth every penny. Anyone who doesn't think so literally doesn't know what they're talking about. Connections, access, and a particular worldview are routinely undervalued, although what you'll actually study there is head and shoulders above most college curricula.

After that things get worse really fast. Most colleges are OK to barely adequate. The main drivers for cost (I'm a former academic and administrator) are country-clubization and administration. Administration tracks weirdly well with models of necessary customer support: artisans need very little, mass-market companies need huge amounts assuming they are good-faith. Artisans also don't need to advertise. Part of the cost explosion has come from an arms race to attract students by building ever-more-luxurious facilities, like peacocks evolving tails too heavy for them to walk. Furthermore, there's a vicious incentive: college presidents, most of whom by definition are mediocre, believe that such spending is what characterizes a good president, and that doing so will catapult them upward into a better job, far away from the smoking ruins of poor little Hayseed College. Again, those schools least able to bear this sort of behavior are the ones who get it worst.

The real issue is grift, "colleges" like Capella and Phoenix. Like the incredibly sick 10% of patients who cause 50% of health care costs, these "schools" exploit runaway government funding, often secured via government contacts and personal connections, to strip unfit students of every penny they have. In the best tradition, they actively seek out students unable to judge the fitness of their proposals, like the "funeral insurance" salesmen who preyed on poor people in the South. Like an actual grift operation, there's zero customer service. It's nearly all pure profit. Biden's proposal to make the first two years of community college free is designed to gut these companies, and it'll work.

Most schools overexpanded during the Gen Y boom. Many of the mediocre ones are in serious trouble now: Guilford, Earlham, and Marlboro have all folded or are on the verge, just off the top of my head. ("Mediocre" may refer to quality or to an obviously unsustainable mission with no actions to address that.) My own alma mater is as close to failure as a state school can be, and will likely face drastic reorganization in the next decade.

The real issue is that most of these kids don't belong in college, and I'm a fierce defender of the liberal humanities tradition, blah blah. We have no other path for them, though, and no real path to create a path. Who's going to teach them alternatives? People in business? They'll learn even less in most cases.

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👀 "the last entrant into the top 10 was over 100 years ago (Stanford)"

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