Since the bottom dropped out of our economy in the fall of 2008, family income has declined and, five years later, shows few signs of recovering. Nearly all net income gain over this time has gone to the top 1-2 percent in the country. Unemployment, underemployment and anxiety about job stability continue to trouble millions of American families. University presidents rightfully argue that a college education is the best investment a young person — or a student of any age — can make. However, those arguments can also make us seem out of touch with the financial realities of many families, especially when American higher education is criticized for ever-increasing tuition rates, escalating student debt levels, and longer times to degree completion.
I am the president of Lesley University in Cambridge, a tuition-dependent, private, non-profit institution. In this particular sector of American higher education, tuition rates continue to rise. In order to enroll students from diverse economic backgrounds, our sector offers most students financial aid that is, in essence, a tuition discount. Although not the case at Lesley, some institutions are already surpassing discount rates of 50 percent. This “high tuition-high aid” model is not sustainable. Families see the high price and never learn about the high aid. Institutions increase tuition rates and discounts, maintaining a large gap between published price and what students actually pay.