New York Times: How the Government Exaggerates the Cost of College, by David Leonhardt:
The government’s official statistic for college-tuition inflation has become somewhat infamous. It appears frequently in the news media, and policy makers lament what it shows.
No wonder: College tuition and fees have risen an astounding 107 percent since 1992, even after adjusting for economywide inflation, according to the measure. No other major household budget item has increased in price nearly as much.
But it turns out the government’s measure is deeply misleading.
For years, that measure was based on the list prices that colleges published in their brochures, rather than the actual amount students and their families paid. The government ignored financial-aid grants. Effectively, the measure tracked the price of college for rich families, many of whom were not eligible for scholarships, but exaggerated the price – and price increases – for everyone from the upper middle class to the poor.
Here’s an animation that explains the difference succintly. It shows the government’s estimate of how college costs have changed since 1992 — and, for comparison, toggles between the changes in the colleges' published prices and actual prices, according to the College Board, the group that conducts the SAT.
Every measure shows costs increasing to some degree, but it’s clear that government’s measure follows the path of published prices. In reality, college tuition has risen less than half as much in the last two decades as the official data suggest.
Matt Leichter, NYT Says People Who Use BLS Inflation Data Are Conspiracy Theorists