The cost of room and board has gone up sharply too, with charges often double or more in inflation-adjusted dollars. At Bowdoin and UCLA, they have gone up three times. Most college tours will show that student living standards have risen too. Rooms once had only iron cots, military mattresses and battered desks. Now suites are wired for electronic gear, with fully-equipped kitchens down the hall. Penn State enables students to legally download music — at last count about 2 million songs a week.
As to dining, food costs may be lower than ever, but not on college campuses, where the quality of campus dining has become a marketing tool. If your memories of dorm food include mystery meat and overcooked vegetables, you'd be in for a shock on today's campuses. Here were some recent choices in the Middlebury College dining rooms: sun-dried tomato pizzas, African couscous, tandoori chicken, orange-ginger tofu steak, red beans and basmati rice. Whether these more elaborate menus make students more studious is not known.
The travesty of high tuition is that most of the extra charges aren't going for education. Administrators, athletics and amenities get funded, while history departments are denied new assistant professors. A whole generation of young Americans is being shortchanged, largely by adults who have carved out good careers in places we call colleges.
Andrew Hacker is on the faculty of Queens College and Claudia Dreifus teaches at Columbia University. Their book, "Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It," came out last month.