At the state schools, 25 percent of students typically graduated in four years, and 55 percent in six. More strikingly, the probability of dropping out was vastly greater at the state schools.
Seven years of tuition costs roughly 75 percent more than four years' worth does, and the income lost from not graduating in four years probably exceeds $100,000.
The implicit flouting of the time-is-money rule is starting to be more obvious.
Total university enrollments have stopped growing as perceived costs rise relative to perceived benefits. Talk of three-year bachelor degrees has grown. They are the standard in Europe now.
(Even more bold talk of shortening the degree is occurring at law schools. I attended an American Bar Association meeting recently where serious mention was made of the possibility of a two-year law degree.
The basic elements of a U.S. legal education can be taught in two years, and the extra year of theoretical or highly specialized courses may not be necessary. Could we not offer a five-year combined undergraduate and law degree?)
While the Education Department moves to provide less useful real-world data, a bipartisan congressional effort is growing to force colleges to give prospective students more helpful information than eight-year graduation rates.
A measure in the Senate would give students post-graduation salary information by major and even provide a federal "unit record" database - tracking students from college into the workforce - that would provide much better analysis of the performance of individual schools.
Colleges have successfully warded off the unit-records approach, even getting it outlawed in 2008 on the bogus grounds that individuals' privacy would be compromised.
The schools' real fear is of being explicitly compared with competitors.
Universities want to keep living the good life, with lots of public subsidies, rising salaries for top administrators and little accountability or exposure to market forces.
For evidence of this, look no further than the acceptance of an eight-year undergraduate degree.
Vedder, a contributor to Bloomberg View, directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, teaches economics at Ohio University and is an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.