At Family Inequality, Philip Cohen argues that the rising cost of higher education may be directly related to the cost of homes. In the figure below, he shows that housing prices and college tuition have risen in tandem, at least until recently:
Cohen doesn’t chalk this up to simple inflation influencing both trends. Instead, he argues…
…the connection between home wealth and college attendance was sometimes direct, as when experts advised parents to use home equity loans to send their kids to college (advice you don’t hear so much these days). But even without home equity loans, the wealth stored in middle-class homes — for most such families their largest asset — underwrote millions of college educations. I guess you could say the federal policies promoting homeownership were big boons for the higher education industry, not just the GIs and mostly-white suburbanites who landed inside the picket fences.
That is, rising home prices meant that people who could afford those homes could pay more for their children’s college educations. The price of college, then, could afford to increase without pricing out all those middle- and upper-class families.
Cohen asks for ideas about what will happen now that home prices have dipped and the cost of higher education continues to rise.
Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.