One factor that the article did not mention in the admissions circus: The high sticker prices for many private colleges are resulting in some students & families not even considering them as an option. Trinity and many other 1st and 2nd-tier private schools in New England (where we live) are $70k+ all in. This includes my undergraduate alma mater, Boston University, which I don't even discuss with my children as an option.
The other trend taking place: Some state colleges have become extremely competitive in part because they are affordable. Not only are they cheap for in-state residents (UMass Amherst all-in is about $30k for Mass. residents) but they are relatively inexpensive for out of state residents (UVM ~$53k all-in for out of state students) compared to private colleges.
We are middle class but really tight on finances, driving used vehicles and putting almost every extra dollar we can afford into 529 and retirement plans. Because our AGI is well above the median we won't be eligible for Pell grants, and my assumption is other grants will very rightly be designated for students and families who have far greater economic needs than us. I don't put any hope that our children's grades will make much of a difference. "Financial aid" in the form of loans is just putting off the pain, with interest.
And even if we get $5k or $10k lopped off per year? Congratulations, you will now be paying a quarter of a million dollars over the next four years, instead of $300,000. It's still not worth it, so the BUs, Trinitys, and Brandeises are not part of our college tours.
When I grew up in Canada there was very little of that. You typically went to a local university, maybe in the next province over, but often in your home town. I knew very few people who said "It's McGill or nothing".
Yes, there are really highly ranked universities in Canada, but there wasn't the mad scramble of "if I don't get into a top school my life is over" attitude. Most of the universities were middle-of-the-road and you know what? That was ok and people turned out just fine.
There is a pervasive attitude in the US that unless you're going to a top school, you are severely handicapping your future.
This is mostly only among the upper middle class who worry about how non-upper class they are.
Despite being accepted to top engineering schools, I got mostly a full-ride to my local state flagship. To this day, I am not sure if it was the best or worst decision I made. I still made it to a top company without debt, but I have a feeling that any future education (e.g. a top MBA) is going to be hampered by this not to mention how certain things are basically excluded (e.g. venture funding, certain jobs).
One thing to remember is that a good percentage of those applying to top schools are coming from expensive private schools that are about as expensive as the university tuition, so to the parents that already paid 12 years of $70k tuition, 4 more isn't a problem.
My general inclination is at current prices everything other than in-state public schools are inappropriate for most people. The top 10-15 may be another story. Everything below would need to come with a crazy discount.
Interesting point in the article is despite all the worry they still came in 20 kids shy - that could have put them half a million over the tuition goal. Or allowed them to admit 20 more low income students.