Education Costs: Higher and Higher
From Guest Blogger Ryan Berg
Higher education costs have come to vastly outpace our ability to pay themt. This is no secret. Ask most students, and especially parents who help foot the bill. President Obama stated recently his goal for fifty percent of Americans to obtain some form of higher education—up from its current level of about twenty-five percent—a lofty goal, indeed. However, like all political endeavors, his efforts will be stymied without figuring out some cost control measures for both public and private school tuition alike.
That is why this recent Los Angeles Times book review caught my attention. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus chronicle the recent inflation in college tuition in their book Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money And Failing Our Kids And What We Can Do About It. Take, for example, the following tuition increases at a random cluster of public and private schools (adjusted for inflation):
- $38,394/year at Pomona College, 2.9 times what it charged in 1980
- $41, 434/year at Williams College, 3.2 times what it charged in 1970
- $41,022/year at USC, 3.6 times what it charged in 1980
- $13,658/year at the University of Illinois (for in state residents), 6 times what it charged in 1980
- $6,250/year at San Jose State University, 11 times what it charged in 1980 (the UC school system is usually lauded as the paradigm of high-level public education)
Clearly, this type of cost inflation cannot continue. If it does, less-than-A students may make the cost-benefit analysis that it is best to join the workforce immediately, rather than graduate with massive amounts of debt, not to mention an education incommensurate with its price tag. The alarming factor here is that Hacker and Dreifus attribute most of the rise in education costs to non-education-related developments, namely athletic programs and administrative expansion.
“Since 1980, the number of administrators per student at colleges has about doubled; on most campuses, their numbers now match the number of faculty. Here are some of their titles: senior specialist of assessment; director for learning communities; assistant dean of students for substance education; director of knowledge access services.”
Some administrative positions are important and have a sincere interest in helping students. However, not all administrators occupy necessary positions. Universities need to evaluate judiciously administrative positions in the name of cost and accountability; they ought to make value judgments on different administrative positions rather than value all administrative positions equally, as if there were no difference between necessity and superfluity. Teacher’s salaries have also increased since 1980. In fact, at schools like Yale they have increased at a staggering 64% rate in inflation-adjusted dollars, while pay in other areas of the U.S. economy during this time was about 5%.
High levels of pay are necessary to secure cutting-edge professors, some argue. Yet, this argument is dubious for two reasons. First, professor quality is now measured almost entirely by research quality, something that rarely has a direct benefit to students. While it is important for students to engage cutting-edge researchers, in no way does this research and focus on academic publication enhance one’s teaching faculties, accessibility to students, and genuine concern for student life that make a university great. In fact, it likely has the opposite effect, making professors less concerned with teaching and the academic success of their students. Second, even if some professors are worth such a pay increase, universities are finding it difficult to obtain the amount of work from professors necessary to substantiate such a substantial pay increase. For instance, three out of seven religion professors at Williams College are taking off for all or part of the year. Schumpeter at The Economist reports that twenty of Harvard’s forty-eight history professors will be on leave this year. Schumpeter catalogues the devolution of the American university, remarking, “America’s universities [may] go the way of its car companies.
High-level professors, administrators, and athletics absorb the increase in tuition dollars, while adjunct and junior professors handle the majority of classroom instruction. Average class sizes have not decreased either. In sum,
“The travesty of high tuition is that most of the extra charges are not going for education. Administrators, athletics, and amenities are funded, while history departments are denied new assistant professors. A whole generation of young Americans is being shortchanged, largely by adults who have carved out good careers in places we call colleges.”
Hacker and Dreifus paint an odd picture, that of a modern higher education system that is at once too corporate and business-minded, and yet not business-savvy enough to eliminate needless administration and increase accountability, to the detriment of those it proclaims to serve: its students.