Colleges have debt too

The New York Times has published an opinion piece by Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia University, that puts a slightly different spin on the perennial college-costs-are-out-of-control argument.  He suggests that the institutions of higher education are themselves as indebted (and troubled) as their students:

There is a similarity between the debt crisis on Wall Street and what threatens higher education. Just as investors borrowed more and increased their leverage in volatile markets, many colleges and universities are borrowing more and betting on an expanding market in higher education at the precise moment their product is becoming affordable for fewer people.

It’s an interesting observation with potentially far-reaching implications.  There is always going to be demand for higher education, but it’s hard to see how a university like N.Y.U. can sustain debt levels higher than its endowment (“a staggering $2.22 billion debt with a relatively modest $2.2 billion endowment,” according to the article) in a world where “four years at a top-tier school will cost $330,000 in 2020, $525,000 in 2028 and $785,000 in 2035” if present trends continue.

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