College tuition is falling for the first time in decades because, as it turns out, the principle of supply and demand always applies.
Writing for Forbes, Preston Cooper lays out the data. Nominal tuition has increased for public (2.1%) and private (1.6%) four-year colleges, but inflation has risen 5.3% over the same time period, meaning “college tuition has fallen in real terms.”
Enrollment in bachelor’s degree programs has dropped since 2019, and the drop has been greater for students “at less-selective colleges and those pursuing two-year degrees.” Cooper credits the labor shortage with this, noting that “the vast majority of students attend college to increase their employment opportunities” and, with those opportunities now plentiful, people are opting to enter the workforce immediately.
The college tuition debate in our politics has always ignored economic realities, pretending taxpayer-funded “free college” would solve the litany of problems of universities raising tuition and bloating bureaucracies rather than creating more of them. The fact is that college is expensive for a few reasons, and one is that too many people who don’t need to (or shouldn’t) go to college end up doing so.
Our political debates over college tuition should focus more on two-year programs and vocational school and less on grand pie-in-the-sky schemes to funnel taxpayer money to bloated bureaucracies so people can pursue degrees in philosophy. Basic economics won’t stop applying just because Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders wants free college for everyone.