Summary: Planning & Budgeting Brief
Date: December 17, 2010
Subject: Book Summary: Why Does College Cost So Much by Robert Archibald and David Feldman
Two economists at the College of William and Mary have published a book called 'Why Does College Cost So Much?' In a
co-authored op-ed published by Inside Higher Ed, Robert Archibald and David Feldman explain that their book is an
attempt to dispel common and politicized narratives that blame rising college costs on a particular set of actors (the
government, the administration, the faculty, or even students and families) who have created institutional dysfunction
that must be targeted for reform. Instead, they attempt to examine higher education in the context of the American
economy with the basic assumption that economic forces reshaping other industries might also affect higher education.
The authors focus particularly on the role of technology in reducing the costs of manufactured goods and agricultural
products, but not services.
Furthermore, their analysis questions the widespread assumption that the current net cost of college constitutes an
affordability crisis. They show that while college prices have often risen faster than inflation, overall economic growth
means that the average household income can cover the increased cost of higher education while still having more
income left over than in the past. Below is a summary of their key evidence and findings.
Taking the Larger View and Avoiding the `Industry-Analyst' Trap
As mentioned above, this book is unique in that it does not seek to explain the economics of higher education by
applying a magnifying glass to institutions themselves, a technique that is limited because it isolates universities from