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Wealth, Cost, and Price in American Higher Education

A Brief History

Colleges and universities are richer than ever—so why has the price of attending them risen so much?

As endowments and fundraising campaigns have skyrocketed in recent decades, critics have attacked higher education for steeply increasing its production cost, its price, and the snowballing debt of students. In Wealth, Cost, and Price in American Higher Education, Bruce A. Kimball and Sarah M. Iler reveal how these trends began 150 years ago and why they have intensified in recent decades.

In the late nineteenth century, American colleges and universities began fiercely competing to expand their revenue, wealth, and production cost in order to increase their quality and prestige and serve the soaring number of students. From that era through today, the rising wealth and cost of higher education have continued to reinforce each other and spiral upward, increasing the heavily subsidized price paid by students. Kimball and Iler explain the strategy and reasoning that drove this wealth-cost double helix, the new tactics in fundraising and endowment investing that fueled it, and economists' efforts to understand it.

Based on extensive archival, documentary, and quantitative research, Kimball and Iler trace the shifting public perception of higher education and its correlation with rising costs, stagnating wages, and explosive student debt. They show how stratification of wealth in higher education became tightly interwoven with wealth inequality in American society. This relationship raises fundamental questions about equity in US higher education and its contribution to social mobility and democracy.

About the Authors

Bruce A. Kimball (NEWTON, MA) is Emeritus Academy Professor at Ohio State University. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he is the author of several award-winning books, including Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education and The Inception of Modern Professional Education: C. C. Langdell, 1826-1906. Sarah M. Iler (WAKE FOREST, NC) is adjunct professor of U.S. History at Columbus State Community College and Wake Technical Community College. She is the author or coauthor of essays on topics including the history of African American conservatism, the history of multicultural education, the history of liberal arts education, and the history of endowments in higher education.

Endorsements

"Kimball has written a book that everyone concerned with university finance in a democracy should read. The United States is currently caught up in concern over the rising cost of higher education; reading Kimball is the first step toward understanding the problem."

- Stanley Katz, President Emeritus, American Council of Learned Societies

"Kimball's book provides a superb blend of historical and economic analysis of higher education and raises fundamental questions about the equity of educational finance. A major contribution to our understanding of the development of higher education."

- David W. Breneman, Emeritus Professor of Economics and Education, University of Virginia

"Kimball addresses the biggest economic questions facing American higher education today. Eminently readable, this is a powerful book, certain to become the new standard in the economic history of higher education."

- James C. Mohr, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Oregon

"In clear language that speaks to historians, economists, and general readers, this book explains historically the murky relationship between production cost and students' price in higher education, and how institutional wealth eventually overtook them both."

- Linda Eisenmann, Wheaton College

"By far the most comprehensive and sophisticated analysis of endowments in American higher education yet written. A terrific book, impressively clear in discussing the history of higher education finances. A wonderful example of the value that careful historical analysis can bring to policy debate."

- David Hammack, Past President, Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action
Johns Hopkins University Press
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