By: Alcides Hoy Jr.
NEW YORK (Fortune) -- My Rolls-Royce is a lot more expensive than your Buick. A pint of Ben & Jerry's costs double the A&P generic brand. That makes sense. But when it comes to college tuition, the difference between the Harvards and the Podunks is not nearly so great.
Yale will charge $36,500 next year. Harvard, MIT, and Pomona are in the same ballpark, as you would expect. Yet so are the University of Richmond, Bucknell, and Kenyon. Due respect to those good schools, but they don't offer the same level of faculty, facilities, or cachet. Moreover, a range of lower-ranking schools, including Allegheny and Manhattanville, charge $30,000 or more.
Yes, you can get a fine education at hundreds of American colleges; not every Nobel laureate or Fortune 500 CEO graduated from Stanford or Amherst. But nobody would seriously argue that a degree from a middling university confers the same benefits as an Ivy League school or comparable elite. So how do they get away with charging practically the same price?