Jon McGee has been a college administrator for two decades. So he has a pretty good grasp of why, for example, it costs so much to go to college these days.

But as a parent, it really hit home when his eldest child, now 19, started his own college search two years ago.

“I don’t just have one child, I have four,” said McGee. That means his family has just begun “a postsecondary parade that will not end until 2028,” he writes in his new book, “Breakpoint: The Changing Marketplace for Higher Education.”

By his own estimation, financing four kids’ education could cost as much as $1.1 million, “a gulpworthy, stomach-churning total by any definition,” he writes.

The book, which will be published Sunday by Johns Hopkins University Press, was meant as a reader-friendly exploration of the trends that are transforming higher education before our eyes.

Costs. Technology. Demographics.

Yet McGee, 53, who is a vice president at two Minnesota colleges (the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University), offers a distinctive perspective as both a dad and an insider.

He points out that, since World War II, college has evolved from a “luxury good” to a necessity.

“While they often have significant concerns about rising college costs, parents today overwhelmingly expect their children to go to college,” he writes.

At the same time, he warns, people will vote with their feet if they don’t see value for their money.

“Colleges and university leaders can talk about learning value to their heart’s content, but if we cannot address economic concerns in a compelling way … we risk losing the argument altogether,” he writes.

He readily admits that there is no simple fix. But “the burden of proof rests with the institutions to continuously convey the value of what they do.”

 

maura.lerner@startribune.com