What We’re Reading: Runaway College Costs

by Dave Sarju, Community Engagement / Multi-Generational African American Initiative

James Koch, economist and former college president, and economist Richard J. Cebula illuminate some of the forces eroding American colleges’ value to students and to the common good, illustrating the harmful effects of tuition increases and the quest for prestigious college rankings. The authors argue that college boards must “grab the steering wheel” if the institutions they lead are to prioritize access, affordability, and economic mobility.

Paradox can illuminate opportunity.  As we support students to navigate dominant culture, maximize their options, and become thriving leaders, we place them into systems that Koch and Cebila argue are in some ways moving in the opposite direction – concentrating privilege. The book might provide us and scholars insights into how we advance individual opportunity and simultaneously challenge a system to work for many.

The principles the authors lay out for college boards to reverse these trends are similar to those that we offer students to achieve lifetime well-being, including: 

  • Be clear about purpose and make it visible 
  • Serve the public good, not just institutions 
  • Governance/leadership must have a fiduciary responsibility to all stakeholders 
  • Measure what matters 
  • Demand evidence – otherwise we are subject to persuasion by charismatic individuals  

In a call to all of us who care about dismantling inequitable systems and building a durable society, the authors make clear that access to opportunity, at scale, should be a national priority.