Top Colleges Just Coast on Reputation, Nonprofit Says

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Much has been written and many hands have been wrung over the constantly rising high cost of a college education.

The College Board reports that the annual cost of attending a private four-year school has risen from $16,979 in 1973-74 to $40,917 in four decades.

That's way ahead of the rate of inflation, and it's a huge case of sticker shock for college planning-weary American parents.

Now there's more cause for angst: The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that tracks and assesses college and university performance, says in a report that the nation's most elite private colleges "fail to live up to their reputations in several crucial areas of academic quality and campus management."

Prestigious universities are largely coasting on reputation and slipping in terms of performance, the council says. It's a scenario that would sink a corporation in the private sector, where investors, customers and board directors wouldn't stand for it.

In the report, Education or Reputation? A Look at America's Top-Ranked Liberal Arts Colleges, the nonprofit examines 29 private colleges, homing in on the quality of education, tuition rates, administrative spending, endowments and campus speech codes (the ACTA bills itself as being a champion on free academic speech.)

Here are is what the organization found:

Skyrocketing endowments, and tuition costs. The average endowment for the 29 schools covered was $1 billion each. But that cash cow didn't stop them from raising tuition and fees, on average, by 6.2% and 17.1% above the rate of inflation rate in recent years. That comes at a time when many U.S. families 'are cutting back expenses," the ACTA reports.

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