When I embarked on my grand northeast college tour (having already visited Davidson and Duke), I became struck at college #4 or #5 at how much the things I heard at each place were the exact same. In fact, I started remembering schools for what they hadn’t bragged on, be those study abroad programs, need-blind admissions, dining flexibility, and whatever else they say on the tours. I never went on a tour of Williams (at the time of my trip, I thought it was right outside Boston and too far out of my way), but I suspect Williams’s marketing folks are under the same pressure to check the boxes like our competitors. Any possible student desire left without complete satisfaction is a black mark that might easily deprive us of the best applicants and students.

The national end result is that while endowments were rising, institutions of higher education including Williams were taking on all of the boxes. Some schools, like Harvard, ran out of ways to spend money, and turned to a (now regretted) financial aid program capped at 10% of family income for incomes up to 180k.

This competition is my theory for the huge increases in college budgets. As Frank said:

College tuitions (and presumably college budgets) for colleges of Williams’ type have consistently outpaced inflation because the colleges continuously add (and again presumably their customers require or at least strongly prefer) lots of frills, along with continuous upward pressure on wages and salaries (net of inflation) for faculty and staff.

As long as colleges are supposed to provide for every need, and we invent new ways of satisfying needs, the costs of a “full” education will continue to increase everywhere. Should that happen? What is the role of the ideal college?

Also, Williams will be adding extra students in the incoming classes, because the marginal cost of each student is much lower than the average marginal revenue of each new student. In other words, it costs the college very little to make a big single into a double and to increase average class size a bit, so that student’s tuition will help the overall bottom line.

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