While I think through my replies to several very interesting and important questions posed by readers in response to my invitation to ask me anything, I will just pass along a little calculation I made a few moments ago with the aid of a Consumer Price Index Calculator I found on-line.
I started at Harvard as a Freshman in 1950. I remember the tuition as $400 that year, but my classmate, friend, colleague, and one-time apartment mate Charles Parsons recalls it as $600, and in matters of this sort, I learned six decades ago, Charles is always right. The CPI Calculator tells me that $600 in 1950 is the equivalent of a tad less than $6,000 today -- a ten-fold devaluation. But Harvard's tuition this year is roughly $45,000, which is seven and a half times as much as a mere cost-of-living adjustment would explain.
Is Harvard's education today seven and a half times better than the education I received? I can assure you the answer is "No."
Indeed, is it as good? I will pass on that question, but I am quite certain it is no better.
Why does Harvard charge an extra $39,000 in 2015-16? There really is only one possible answer: Because it can. It gives one pause.
Thursday, December 31, 2015
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Hi, Bob —
I don't understand your objection, since what Harvard (and the other rich universities) do is simply an income redistribution, which I presume is the sort of thing you like. Here are our facts: only 40% of Harvard undergraduates pay full freight. They subsidize the others: those with family income at most $65K pay nothing (neither tuition nor room & board) — and apparently this is 20% of our student population; and there's a sliding scale up to family income of $150K, who pay at most 10% of their income.
This is far more generous financial aid than was available in your day or my day. Of course it presupposes the greater income inequality that exists in America today, but it exploits it for good purposes. I see no reason not to soak the wealthy families whose kids get admitted.
Yes, they can, and yes, it gives one pause. Happy New Year, Professor Wolff!
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