Photo of Bill Moyers Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Bill Moyers Journal
Watch & Listen The Blog Archive Transcripts Buy DVDs
Crunching College Costs
college costs
January 30, 2009

In their discussion on the JOURNAL, Bill Moyers and Vartan Gregorian enumerated the many problems facing students and institutions of higher learning in this troubled economy. For a number of years the cost of college has been rising faster than inflation while student aid funds have been declining. Now, the faultering economy adds to the steep decline in both state coffers and university endowments due to the faltering economy, colleges and students are in real trouble. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gives a failing grade of "F" to 49 of the 50 states.

Take a look at the numbers:

  • 26 states already have either cut their budgets for higher education, raised tuition fees or done both.

  • College endowments earned an average return of minus-3 percent for the 2008 fiscal year and an estimated minus-22.5 percent in the five months after that.

  • Public four-year college costs were up 6.4 percent on average for 2008-2009 from last year according to The College Board. In 2007-2008 tuition and fees at public institutions rose 5.7 percent; at private ones, 6.3 percent and at public two-year institutions, 3.8 percent.

  • Pell grants, those for the neediest students, have declined in amount in many recent years.
How Much Does a Degree Cost? How Much Is a Degree Worth?

There's no escaping the fact that college prices are rising. According to recently released reports from the College Board, most students and their families can expect to pay, on average, from $108 to $1,398 more than last year for this year's tuition and fees, depending on the type of college. The cost of a private four-year runs about $25,143 (up 5.9 percent from last year). The cost for a public four-year $6,585 (up 6.4 percent from last year). When adding in living costs, and books several recent studies present an overall price tag of $30,000.

For years it's been a commonplace that someone with a bachelor's degree will earn a million dollars more during a lifetime than someone with a high school diploma. Recent studies show that the differential may not be that large — due in part to increasing college costs. But US NEWS & WORLD REPORT reported that it's still a very worthwhile investment.

  • College graduates earn, on average, about $20,000 a year.

  • Over a 40-year working life and the total differential is about $800,000. Subtracting out the impact of inflation means that $800,000 in future dollars is worth only about $450,000 in today's dollars.

  • Subtract out the cost of a college degree — about $30,000 — net value in today's dollars is somewhere in the $300,000 range.

But Skidmore economist Sandy Baum notes that there are hidden benefits to a college degree.

The quality of the jobs college graduates get is far better, for example. College graduates are more likely to get jobs with health insurance. And it is easier for them to find and hold jobs. The unemployment rate for college graduates was just 2.2 percent last year, half the unemployment level of those with only high school diplomas.
The Fiscal Outlook '09

Analysts worry that these increasing costs on all sides will put the advantages of a college degree out of the reach of more and more Americans. In the early weeks of 2009 students have begun to protest the hikes proposed at state institutions. The Chancellor of the Nevada University system said that Nevada's Governor Jim Gibbons proposed cutting the state budget for higher education by 36 percent could lead to a possible tuition increase of 225 percent… In Tucson, Arizona, a record number of people crowded into a meeting of the state's Board of Regents to voice their outrage at a proposed cut of more than $600 million from the state's university system.

Some governors have proposed plans to spare public universities from the worst of the cuts. The governors of Missouri and Maryland have pledged not to cut their state’s colleges and university budget from last year's rate — or to raise tuition. In Oregon, state officials have proposed to receive $88-million from a stimulus package for repairs.

And then there is the money for higher education that is part of the stimulus package under debate in Congress. The proposed measure, says New York Senator Charles Shumer, would at least double — and in some cases quadruple — current college tuition tax benefits to middle-class families. Overall, the bill contains $180 million more education for all student levels. Of course, there's no guarantee the money will make its way into university coffers or scholarship programs. In an editorial for THE DENVER POST, Congressman Mike Coffman firmly places the education spending under the label "Pork-laden Spending Frenzy," singling out For the $15.6 billion which would increase each student's Pell Grant by $500 for two years.

Published January 30, 2009.

References and Reading:
The National Center for Public Policy And Higher Education

The College Board: College Costs 2009

"What's a College Degree Really Worth?" US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, October 30, 2008

"Record-Breaking Crowd at Regents Meeting Speaks Out Against Cuts," LaMonica Everett HAYNES, UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS, January 22, 2009

"Thousands rally at UNLV to protest proposed," Richard Lake, LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, January 23, 2009.

"Some States Propose Plans to Spare Higher Education From Budget Cuts," THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, January 23, 2009.

"Democrats Push for Stimulus Package to Include Education Spending," Amanda Ruggeri, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT, January 14, 2009

"Market Collapse Weighs Heavily on Endowments,"
Goldie Blumenstyk, THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, January 27, 2009

"Hearing Offers Insight Into Priorities of Nominee for Education Secretary," CHRONCILE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, Kelly Field, January 23, 2009
"Arne Duncan, Barack Obama's nominee to be secretary of education, pledged to work toward the president-elect's goals of raising the maximum Pell Grant and simplifying the student-aid application process during his confirmation hearing in the U.S. Senate last week."

Also This Week:

Bill Moyers sits down with historian Marilyn Young, author of the forthcoming BOMBING CIVILIANS: A TWENTIETH CENTURY HISTORY and former Pentagon official Pierre Sprey, who developed military planes and helped found the military reform movement. ir hopes and expectations for this administration.


>Read Pierre Sprey and Col. Robert Dilger's chapter in AMERICA'S DEFENSE MELTDOWN.

The JOURNAL takes a closer look at the history of strategic bombing and America's current policy on bombing, exploring the ethics behind these assaults when civilians become the victims and asks: Does bombing work?

Bill Moyers talks the twelfth president of Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian about the perilous state of higher education in America. Gregorian is the former president of the New York Public Library and Brown University.


Both colleges and college students are facing touch economic times. Find out how much will a degree cost...and how much it is worth in the workplace.

Our posts and your comments
For Educators    About the Series    Bill Moyers on PBS   

© Public Affairs Television 2008    Privacy Policy    DVD/VHS    Terms of Use    FAQ