I have a friend (I'll call him Steve) who manages an IT group at a Midtown company. I don't know Steve's salary, but I have to imagine that he makes a decent salary -- certainly above the median for New York.
Steve also has three kids, the oldest of which is three years old. The kids are, obviously, not yet enrolled in a yeshiva, but at some point in the not too distant future they will be. I don't know where Steve would want to send his kids, but from what I know of him hashkafically and the location of his house (not in Brooklyn), I'm fairly certain that he'll be facing steep annual tuition bills. Assuming he has to pay his mortgage and other bills, it may well be beyond his ability to pay despite his above average salary.
For the moment, however, Steve's kids aren't yet in school. Steve is a pretty astute guy when it comes to finances. He's not a CPA, a financial planner or anything like that, but he has enough common sense and brains to be able to analyze a situation and a see what lies ahead in the future.
Let's assume (since I don't know this for sure) that Steve has the ability to put away some money from his job each month for savings. Simple logic would tell you that a person facing a long road of expenses in the future but with a current surplus would be wise to start putting away some money for that future expense. That's the entire basis of some of the various savings plans (IRA, 401(k), 529, etc.) that are out there - you put away now when you have excess to pay for a later expense (be it retirement, college education, etc.). So, if Steve can sock away a few hundred each month now to pay for yeshiva education for his kids later, he should do it. That would be the responsible thing to do.
The problem is that unless Steve's salary is very, very high, he actually has a disincentive to save.
If Steve's salary is very, very high, and he's able to carry the three tuitions in full (plus the tuitions of any other kids he may have in the future) in addition to his other expenses then he might have an incentive to save. But, in all probability, Steve does not have a salary quite that high. Three tuitions can easily add up to $25,000 a year or more -- quite a big hole in just about anyone's budget. So, in all probability, Steve (along with lots of other people) will be asking the yeshiva for a discount.
When Steve sees the financial aid application, there will probably be a question on there about how much he has stocked away in a savings account. Assuming that Steve has been responsible, he'll probably have been saving up and have a few thousand stashed away by the time his oldest hits first grade. The administrators will probably take this into account when they evaluate Steve's application for a reduction in tutition.
Now, Steve is an honorable, stand-up kind of guy. He's the type of guy who, if he could pay full tuition, would. He's not out to deliberately "cheat" the schools out of money that they owe. He's also not going to use the money that he would have otherwise put into the savings account to go on an expensive vacation, buy a big screen television, or go on a gambling trip to Atlantic City. He would put the money to use in ways that most of us would consider responsible -- he might pay off a high-interest credit card, or make an extra payment on his mortgage. But he probably can't help but notice the difference between himself and his less responsible neighbor - let's call him Mike.
Steve and Mike earn the same amount. Their houses are roughly the same price and they pay similar amounts in mortgages, bills, etc. Both have young children coming into the yeshiva in the next few years. Steve, being responsible, knows that he should begin saving now for the big upcoming expense. Mike, however, doesn't have a long-range vision. He knows that he's going to have to start paying tuition in a few years, but for now, it's not "on the books yet." He can take his discretionary income and spend it on whatever he needs or wants. So, Mike's family goes on a vacation this year -- because he knows that in a few years he won't be able to. He may purchase large-ticket discretionary items now. Heck, he may even be responsible and take the money and pay off his credit card bills. But whatever he uses it for, it's not going to be there when he enrolls his oldest in the local yeshiva.
Steve looks at Mike and his purchases and wonders to himself how he can buy these things. Doesn't he know that his kids have to go to yeshiva in a few years? He's just about positive that Mike doesn't have some outside source of income. He figures (correctly) that Mike isn't saving any money to pay for yeshiva in a few years. A casual conversation with Mike about the subject a few days later confirms his suspicions -- unless Mike hits the lottery in the next few years, he's planning on asking the tuition committee for a break on his kids' tuition when it's time to enroll.
Steve has to wonder to himself. He has the ability to make sacrifices to his lifestyle and to scrimp and save perhaps $30,000 over the next three years to pay tuitions. Of course, as the younger ones start enrolling and the savings account begins to deplete, he'll eventually have to ask for a tuition break himself - but for the first few years, if he really watches the pennies, he can probably pay the full tuition for his oldest. And that would be the honorable thing to do. But then he looks at Mike and thinks to himself -- "why should I save all that money when Mike will probably get a discount because he has no money in the bank? Why should I be "punished" financially for being responsible and being a roeh as haNolad*?" And so, Steve not only has no incentive to save -- he actually has a disincentive to save -- because if he does save, he'll either have to pay the entire tuition out of pocket or else the administrators will see the savings account on Steve's financial aid application and reduce his tuition based on the fact that he can draw on those savings.
In short, we've created a system where people are often rewarded for not being responsible and people end up worse off, financially, for doing the honorable thing and being responsible. And, perhaps, that's part of the problem that we have with the "tuition crisis" today.
* Literally "one who sees that which will be born." Figuratively -- somone with a longer-range vision than next week.
Furthermore, if what Steve hears about tuition committes are true, then he might be in even bigger trouble once the savings account is depleted and he has to start asking for a discount. Most committees are loathe, from what he hears, to give up their "full payers."