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How to Choose the ‘Right’ College

April 22nd, 2013 by dfarish

We are in the closing weeks of college choice decision time: most institutions have a May 1 date for students to “accept the acceptance.” After that date, some colleges and universities will have a full class for the fall of 2013 and will return deposits postmarked May 2 or later; at many others, the choice (or even the availability) of residence halls, as well as classes, may be severely restricted. So prospective students should be prepared to make their choice of campuses by May 1.

But for many students, cost is a factor that limits choice. In short, can the student (and his or her family) afford the campus that is the student’s first choice?

It is at this point that the expectations of the campus and the student are often at odds. Based on extensive survey data, most students and their families expect to pay substantially less than the institution’s sticker price – and that is often the expectation of the institution as well. But there are enormous differences between and among institutions as to their willingness (or ability) to offer financial support.

The Folly of Early Action

February 11th, 2013 by dfarish

Some years ago, a few of the most prestigious colleges and universities adopted a new model for admitting students. Rather than facing a delay of several months after making application before hearing the university’s decision, a prospective student could choose to apply for “early decision.” The very best applicants would learn much earlier in the admissions cycle that they had been accepted – but the catch was that they then had to commit to attend the university that had accepted them. No longer could they wait and compare offers from other institutions. “Early decision” cut both ways: in return for an early answer, the student was obliged to make an irreversible commitment.

Should Price Reflect Cost? (Part 2)

January 21st, 2013 by dfarish

In Part I of this post, we discussed how the “high cost/high aid” model of price and cost in higher education has led to growing educational debt and a widening achievement gap between affluent and low-income students. This week, we’ll talk about how (and why) to change this model.

But first: consider the following hypothetical conversation between an admissions officer and two prospective students, as he explains the college’s financial aid policy:

Too Rich To Be Generous?

December 17th, 2012 by dfarish

In the last few months, a number of the wealthiest colleges and universities in the country have been reconsidering the level of their financial aid. Paradoxically, their intent is not to increase their financial aid, but to reduce it. How do we reconcile societal concerns regarding the rising costs of higher education (and the corresponding rise in student debt) with the decision by wealthy colleges to spend less on student aid? What is going on?

Let’s turn the clock back about 30 years. In the early 1980s, there were, by today’s standards, only a handful of wealthy colleges and universities. Top-tier universities such as Duke and Brown had endowments of less than $150 million. Even at Harvard, endowment drawdown and annual giving contributed only a minor portion of the annual operating budget. And yet, as a fraction of median family income, the cost of college then was significantly more affordable than it is today.

How to Get Off the Merry-Go-Round

December 3rd, 2012 by dfarish

A recent analysis showed that the median family income in America, adjusted for inflation, has fallen to levels not seen since 1995. The median inflation-adjusted tuition sticker price at America’s private colleges and universities, however, has grown by more than 50 percent since 1995. The consequence, even with increases in institutional aid, is that a substantially smaller fraction of the population is able to afford today’s prices than was true in 1994.

How have we arrived at this undesirable – and, I would suggest, unacceptable – outcome?

Well, there are several reasons. Higher education is an inherently costly enterprise, and there are few economies of scale: doubling class size, for example, would save money, but it would come at the expense of a personalized learning environment – the primary selling point of private higher education.