According to Yale's president Richard Levin (interviewed in the WSJ), elite universities are more than ever able to charge different prices to different students:
"Four years of college at $200,000 strikes lots of people as indecent. "You're talking about sticker prices," Mr. Levin says. "The actual net price people pay, tuition minus financial aid, is basically not changed at all. If you look at the average net price for all of our students, it's actually declined over the last decade." That makes for an average cost of $18,000 per student per year now, compared to $19,000 a decade ago. Mr. Levin says the boom provoked "something of an arms race to give more financial aid," and opened private schools up to a larger -- and as a result stronger -- pool of students "that used to think that elite private schools were inaccessible to them." Yale may be "more affordable than ever," he says. But then Yale's president admits "this logic only applies to five schools" who offer "need blind" admissions."
The article ends by noting (in this time of recession and falling endowments) that universities are among our oldest self perpetuating institutions:
"For all the anxiety about the future for universities, it's hard to think of American institutions that have been as durable, surviving revolution, war and depression. At Yale, they like the refrain, "Older than the Republic." "