A Problem of Fit: How the Complexity of College Pricing Hurts Students—and Universities
by Phillip B. Levine
University of Chicago Press
Cloth: 978-0-226-81853-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-81855-9 | eISBN: 978-0-226-81854-2

A critical examination of the complex system of college pricing—how it works, how it fails, and how fixing it can help both students and universities.

How much does it cost to attend college in the United States today? The answer is more complex than many realize. College websites advertise a sticker price, but uncovering the actual price—the one after incorporating financial aid—can be difficult for students and families. This inherent uncertainty leads some students to forgo applying to colleges that would be the best fit for them, or even not attend college at all. The result is that millions of promising young people may lose out on one of society's greatest opportunities for social mobility. Colleges suffer too because losing these prospective students can mean lower enrollment and less socioeconomic diversity. If markets require prices to function well, then the American higher-education system—rife as it is with ambiguity in its pricing—amounts to a market failure.

In A Problem of Fit, economist Phillip B. Levine explains why institutions charge the prices they do and discusses the role of financial aid systems in facilitating—and discouraging—access to college. Affordability issues are real, but price transparency is also part of the problem. As Levine makes clear, our conversations around affordability and free tuition miss a larger truth: that the opacity of our current college-financing systems is a primary driver of inequities in education and society. In a clear-eyed assessment of educational access and aid in a post-Covid economy, A Problem of Fit offers a trenchant new argument for educational reforms that are well within reach.
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