Another false education statistic

Earlier, Sarah Kendzior claimed 76 percent of American faculty were adjuncts and that fact got parroted in a Jacobin article. It was not true and none of the underlying material linked by Kendzior ever said that. The actual figure was 41 percent.

Kendzior has a more recent piece that features another statistic that is false by an even greater magnitude:

Since 2000, the average cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled …

The underlying link goes to a really sad US News blog (they are all sad really). And indeed, it does say:

… the cost of tuition and fees has more than doubled since 2000 …

This sad blog links to a Moody’s Analytics report. The Moody’s Analytics report features this graph that is meant to show the doubling of tuition and fees since 2000:

You can see the green line is around 100 in 2000 and then around 300 in 2011, and that is meant to reflect a 200% increase. The problem here is that this figure comes from the Consumer Price Index for tuition, which reflects tuition sticker prices. This does not reflect actual tuition paid by anyone or the actual cost of attending college. Anyone who is remotely familiar with education statistics knows that the CPI tuition figures are worse than meaningless.

I have a piece from a few weeks ago that tracks college cost trends from 1999 to 2012. The data for that piece comes from the College Board’s calculations of National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey data. The NPSAS is regarded as the absolute best source in the country for data regarding the actual cost of college.

In my piece, I cover net cost of attendance, which is tuition & fees plus room & board minus grants. I also break down that net cost of attendance into economic quartiles, distinguishing between the net cost of attendance of students from the poorest fourth of families, the richest fourth of families, and the two-fourths of families in between.

Here is the percent increase in the net cost of attendance since 1999 for public two-years, public four-years, and private four-years:

No matter how you cut it, the net cost of attending college hasn’t come anywhere close to doubling for anyone. If you look, not at net cost of attendance (the best statistic here), but just at net tuition and fees, you also don’t find anywhere near a doubling for anybody during this period. Using the CPI instead of a net cost figure is a common error among media writers on education. It helps stoke a great deal of confusion about the reality of college cost trends.