Isaac Asimov to future patrons of a library in Troy, Michigan on 16 March 1971

Congratulations on the new library, because it isn’t just a library. It is a space ship that will take you to the farthest reaches of the Universe, a time machine that will take you to the far past and the far future, a teacher that knows more than any human being, a friend that will amuse you and console you — and most of all, a gateway, to a better and happier and more useful life

Isaac Asimov to future patrons of a library in Troy, Michigan on 16 March 1971

(I came across it on a BoingBoing post by Cory Doctorow on June 3, 2011)

College costs twice as much as it did 10 years ago

Earlier today, I started to wonder how expense it has become to go to college these days. As Mona and I were chatting, we conjectured that the increases were tiny if we were to consider cumulative inflation over the same period.

Best way to find out was to dig into the data, so here we go:

Chart 1: Tuition fees data from Virginia Tech & UC Berkeley


Well, it is pretty interesting to see that VT increased its In-state tuition from $2537 in 2003 to $5254 in 2011; an increase of 107%.

During the same period UC Berkeley went from $2928 in 2003 to $6696 in 2011; clocking a whopping increase of 128%.

Chart 2: Wondering what the percentage increases were year over year ?


Chart 2 reveals a sudden spike of 27% in UC Berkeley in-state tuition due to the State of California going bankrupt, and the reduction of state support to the institute.

On average though, both programs saw double digit % increases at the start of the decade and sustained a stable 5+% increase every year.

And what about inflation?
While, I am not an expert in inflation, a few Google searches brought me to Inflationdata.com’s Inflation Calculator which helps you check the cumulative inflation over a given period of time.

Cumulative inflation
over this (2003 to 2011) period is 22.3%

Therefore, the cost of college has accelerated at 4X-5X when compared to inflation.

In the Information Age when content wants to be free, it is quite surprising to see the cost of education continue to skyrocket.

PS: Yes, I know the distinction between information and knowledge; and do not mean to discount the value of good teaching.

my sense of loss at the demise of bookstores

Many would say the writing is on the wall for physical bound books, and business models that rely on them. As Amazon recently reported to their shareholders the rate at which ebook sales are supplanting print books. The revelation that Barnes & Nobles is up for sale and prior news that Borders is seeking bankruptcy protection mark a watershed moment in the beginning of the end of the neighborhood bookstore (at least in a mainstream sense).

But that is not the point of this post. I think e-books are great for several reasons from portability, lower environmental footprint, search, sharing, and so on and so forth.

Personally, I am a big fan of bookstores and dearly miss the wonder of spending Saturday afternoons strolling the aisles of the Borders in the SoMA area of San Francisco. The Borders shutdown a few weeks ago, and I’ve been distraught ever since. My loss isn’t as much about the impending demise of an institution that sells physical books, as it is about the demise of an intellectual construct/environment it created.

Bookstores create a unique environment that enables serendipity. The freedom to explore the works of different authors, different genres, ask for help when you need it, or be private when you want, the smell of fresh brewed coffee, and familiar faces. Bookstores also create an environment for like-minded people to mingle in a safe and cordial setting.

While the neighborhood bookstore is vanishing, the neighborhood coffee shop is alive & thriving. I am hopeful that these coffee shops will evolve to be spaces that afford much of the great features of bookstores.

From a business standpoint, Starbucks has a vast network of stores and a vibrant digital network (wifi network, music download service, ad network, etc) that can virtually serve the function of bringing books to people’s computers, tablets, and mobile phones.

I am disappointed that my children (in the future) likely won’t experience the wonders of bookstores the way I did.