LOS ANGELES – When families pay Rolls Royce prices to put a child through college, they expect a Rolls Royce education in return — an expectation that's forcing schools to spend more and more money to stay competitive.
Since this year's graduating high school class was born, tuition has risen by more than 200 percent.
"[Colleges] are first and foremost a business," Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education said. "They have to meet payroll every month. They have to provide a product. People are willing to pay."
College administrators cite powerful forces pushing tuition prices upward. Schools spend a fortune keeping up with cutting edge of technology. Faculty salaries continue to rise.
Millions go to retrofitting campuses for handicapped access. At the same time, state funding has been shrinking and student financial aid is drying up. All of this, at a time of unprecedented demand.
"It's quite depressing but it's the price you pay for getting ahead," student Eddie Quintana said.
One year at a private college now costs on average $21,000 and $8,000 at a public school.
"Everything that raises tuition increases the perception that college is too affordable to people who are desperate to get it," Hartle said.
Put off by the cost of a traditional four-year degree, a growing number of new students are opting for concentrated high-tech training.
ITT Technical Institute, for example, services nearly 30,000 students at 70 campuses nationwide.
"[Our students] really don't want to see a problem that has been solved 150 times before," Nader Mojtabi of ITT Technical Institute said.
"They want to get involved with the project and problems that relate with the real-world experiences that they're going to be facing once they graduate from our program," he said.
Third-year ITT senior Martin Andaya says he's now qualified to land a mid-management job in computer graphics.
"While you're gong to school you can actually work in the field and get the experience. And the experience counts more than the education itself because that's where you learn everything," he said.