While I think progressives have taken to over-focus on reductions in levels of state subsidy to higher education as an explanation for tuition increases, I think conservatives tend to over-focus on the existence of subsidies to explain spiraling costs. To see what I’m talking about, check out this New York Times article about tuition at New York City private K-12 schools:
Indeed, this year’s tuition at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory ($38,340 for 12th grade) and Horace Mann ($37,275 for the upper school) is higher than Harvard’s ($36,305). Those 41 schools (out of 61 New York City private schools in the national association) provided enough data to enable a 10-year analysis. […] The median 12th-grade tuition for the current school year was $36,970, up from $21,100 in 2001-2, according to the national association’s survey. Nationally, that figure rose to $24,240 from $14,583 a decade ago.
With schools already setting tuition rates for the 2012-13 school year—Brearley’s is $38,200—parents at Horace Mann, Columbia Grammar and Trinity are braced to find out whether they will join families at Riverdale Country School in the $40,000-a-year club. (Riverdale actually charges $40,450 for 12th grade.) In fact, it appears to be a question not of “if,” but “when.”
Needless to say this is not usefully explained by the presence or absence of subsidies. It speaks, rather, to the underlying economics of the industry. Most families, clearly, can’t afford to spend that kind of money. People who don’t have $40,000 a year to drop on tuition aren’t going to spend the money. But the people who do have the money are gluttons for this particular form of punishment. People will keep spending money on education and health care for their families until they’re out of money.