Harvard & Crocodile Tears

I had just woken up yesterday when my husband Bruce motioned me over to his laptop to show me a news bulletin about Harvard.

The august institution had announced that thanks to the turmoil of the financial markets it had lost $8 billion of its $36.9 billion endowment since the summer. My husband’s boss, who happens to work in Cambridge, MA., had sent him the link and since I write about college Bruce figured I would want to know.

Actually, it was hard to miss Harvard’s announcement. The New York Times, Boston Globe and scores of other papers carried the story, as did the television networks and Internet news sites. The Wall Street Journal displayed the news on its front page today.

What I found curious was that the press didn’t bother to put Harvard’s loss in perspective. No where did I see anyone mention that the financial set back only pushed the value of Harvard’s endowment to where it was just two years ago!

I know because I checked the figures by visiting the website of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, which keeps track of these things. In 2006, according to NACUBO, Harvard’s endowment was $28.9 billion. You can see the figures for yourself here.

What attracted far less attention this week was a troubling report released by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. The report, which was funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, concluded that a bachelor’s degree has become increasingly unaffordable.

College tuition and fees (unadjusted for inflation) have increased 439% from 1982 to 2007, but the median family income has only risen 147%.

I am shedding the real tears for the millions of families who are struggling to provide their children with these gold-plated degrees.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution.

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