Last Lecture [PDF]

Tuition Rising


Governing Academia

What's Happening to Public Higher Education

Science and the University

Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities


Tuition Rising

Why College Costs So Much

Ronald G. Ehrenberg

Harvard University Press

America's elite colleges and universities are the best in the world. They are also the most expensive, with tuition rising faster than the rate of inflation over the past thirty years and no indication that this trend will abate.

Ronald G. Ehrenberg explores the causes of this tuition inflation, drawing on his many years as a teacher and researcher of the economics of higher education and as a senior administrator at Cornell University. Using incidents and examples from his own experience, he discusses a wide range of topics, including endowment policies, admissions and financial aid policies, the funding of research, tenure and the end of mandatory retirement, information technology, libraries and distance learning, student housing, and intercollegiate athletics.


Cornell Campus Store


Barnes and Noble

and other fine booksellers everywhere

also look for the paperback edition  published in October of 2002

He shows that elite colleges and universities, having multiple, relatively independent constituencies, suffer from ineffective central control of their costs. And in a fascinating analysis of their response to the ratings published by magazines such as U.S. News & World Report, he shows how they engage in a dysfunctional competition for students.

In the short run, these colleges and universities have little need to worry about rising tuition, since the number of qualified students applying for entrance is rising even faster. But in the long run, it is not at all clear that the increases can be sustained. Ehrenberg concludes by proposing a set of policies to slow the institutions' rising tuitions without damaging their equality.

What Others Have To Say

From the Library Journal: “Unlike businesses, which strive to keep costs at a minimum, universities must spend to make themselves as attractive as possible to their constituents. Ehrenberg, a senior administrator and professor of economics at Cornell University, examines the factors influencing the spiraling tuition costs of the past decade: the need to spend money to have the best facilities, faculties, and learning tools in order to attract the best and brightest students, the need to spend for athletics and other programs to keep alumni support strong, the self-governing nature of university faculty, and the increasing pressure to spend in order to increase ratings in external publications. Observes Ehrenberg, ‘As long as lengthy lines of highly qualified applicants keep knocking at its door no institution has a strong incentive to unilaterally end the spending race.’ This highly readable examination of the American higher education system is an excellent addition to any public or academic library.”- Mark Bay, Univ. of Houston Lib. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"Economists are sometimes accused of possessing 'an irrational passion for dispassionate rationality.' This book describes what a first-rate economist learned in trying to introduce greater rationality to the decision-making of a great university, a place that emerges as passionate and ambitious, but markedly reluctant to make hard choices. The account is sobering, illuminating, and immensely entertaining. Both those who love universities and those who love rationality will enjoy this book." - Michael McPherson, President, Macalester College

"Ron Ehrenberg's comprehensive and important analysis of rising college costs is based on both his professional expertise as an economist and his practical experience as a member of the central administration at one university: Cornell. With insight, candor, and rigor he examines the 'arms race' among selective universities, reviewing the role each of the major participants - trustees, presidents, deans, faculty, local, state and federal governments, and, not least, tuition-paying students - in ratcheting up the level of tuition. Pointing to the fate of hospitals and medical centers, he cautions that self-regulation and institutional restraint are needed to prevent loss of public confidence and possible federal regulation. This book deserves widespread attention, both within the academic community and beyond it." - Frank Rhodes, former President, Cornell University

"Balanced, sensible, and informed, Tuition Rising is a valuable addition to the literature on higher education. Giving the reader a lot of very useful empirical analysis, Ehrenberg demonstrates the value of being an economist. Anyone about to become a college administrator will want to read this book with great care." - Henry Rosovsky, former Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and author of The University: An Owner's Manual

"Ehrenberg demonstrates in convincing detail that private universities do not easily make economically efficient choices. The culprits are variously loose budget constraints, relatively little hierarchical authority, decentralized units that do not share the universities' goals, poor institutional design, poor public policies, political vulnerability, and the pious blindness of faculty. Tuition Rising is interesting, well-argued, and provocative. It ought to be required reading for presidents, provosts, and trustees of elite private research universities." - Michael Rothschild, Dean, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University

"What makes Tuition Rising so valuable and so much fun is its combination of facts, analysis, and administrative war stories. So, for instance, the importance to a college of national rankings, like US News's, is supported by careful econometric analysis (kept in the background, as are all technical jargon and argument), put under a microscope to understand the reasons for their often-quirky rankings, and then followed into Cornell's business school to see how 'managing to the rankings' - the collegiate version of 'teaching to the test' - can make sensible university-wide administration very difficult." - Gordon Winston, Professor of Economics, Williams College

TUITION RISING: Copyright 2000 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
Jacket Design by Tim Jones - Jacket Photos: University computer lab Bob Rowan, Progressive Image / Corbis ; Boston College football practice by Jim Davis / The Boston Globe via Merlin-Net.com; Construction of underground university library Roger Ressmeyer / Corbis; Students on campus courtesy of FPG.
Ronald G. Ehrenberg
Cornell University
385 Ives East
Ithaca, NY 14853-3901
Phone: (607) 255-3026
Fax: (607) 255-4496
Please report broken links, page errors, or other questions or comments regarding this site to Matthew Nagowski.