However, some have pointed out that public-university tuition, notably in California, is much lower than that of private colleges. For example, writing in the New York Times “Freakonomics” blog, Ian Ayres pointed out the following:
Consider a comparison: U.C. Berkeley offers more courses taught by more Nobel laureates than Yale. Yet Yale charges $28,400 per year in tuition and fees, while Berkeley charges $5,858.
And this is no anomaly: tuitions at public universities average $4,694 compared with $19,710 at private colleges. In short, public university tuition, on average, costs less than one-quarter of private university tuition. (And that is even in light of this year’s public university tuition increase of 14 percent — the largest in at least a quarter of a century.)
Public university tuition is often much lower because of government subsidies. As I pointed out in a column a few years ago, taxpayers often pay much of the bill when it comes to higher education:
While those taxpayers no doubt include many students who attend post-secondary institutions as well as their parents, they also include some people who have never been enrolled in such an institution and do not have children who are enrolled in one. What that means is that they are paying out of their pockets for someone else’s kid to be a benefactor of higher education.
A majority of our society — at least, the part of our society that votes in state and national elections — has deemed it important that everyone have access to higher education and that the government should chip in to make that possible. That means taxpayers are doling out a massive amount of money in order to contribute to public education. In contrast, the cost to the individual student and their parents is considerably smaller.
Students attending a public post-secondary institution and their parents should remember, when looking at bills accumulated from education expenses, that it could be a lot worse. In a less generous society, they could actually have to pay the entire bill for that education.
They should always remember that, right or wrong, people they don’t even know are footing the bill for a large part of that education, thereby easing the burden on the students and parents.
And then there is the wholly separate argument that this much subsidization of education masks the real costs to the consumers (students and parents), distorting the pricing mechanism. This distortion leads to even higher costs due to the increased demand for education, because the actual consumers do not have to foot most of the bill.