Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why College Tuition Costs Are Rising

An article in the Los Angeles Times (home of the infamous "we can judge teacher performance" article) this weekend addressed the issue of rising college tuition costs.  Entitled "Colleges:  Where the Money Goes," an opinion piece written by the authors of a new book about higher education reform argues that while college tuitions have increased between 1980 and 2010 from about 3 or 4 times the 1980 rate to 11 or 12 times as much, most of the extra money is not going toward a better undergraduate experience.  Four major areas of rising college expenses, according to long-term educators and writers Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, are:
*Sports and Athletic Teams--Collegiate sports teams have proliferated as well as gotten more expensive.  While the number of colleges with football teams has grown to 629 schools, all but 14 of them lose money on the sport.  And other sports get little or no alumni contributions, so they lose even more money.  Even the lesser-known sports expend large sums of money.  For example, each varsity golfer at Duke University (they have a men's team of 8 players and a women's team of 6) costs the school $20,405 per year (you can do the math for the entire squad).  Even worse is crew; at Yale, it costs $112,200 to keep a single rower participating for four years.   In the end, it is student tuition that is underwriting the costs for these expensive athletes, many of whom attend on athletic scholarships and so contribute little or nothing to the collegiate coffers.
*Out-of-line salaries to attract "star" faculty and college presidents--the authors cite the case of the President of Vanderbilt, whose $1.2 million annual stipend is the equivalent of a year's tuition from 31 Vanderbilt students.
*More College Administration that is not directly related to teaching
*Luxurious food and accommodations

As someone who worked in a national educational association, I question some of their claims about unnecessary college expenses.  For example, I know much of the increase of "non-academic" administrative positions is due to legislation passed by Congress requiring colleges to perform, assess, safeguard, or prevent many areas that were previously considered to be outside the purview of college responsibility.  However, many of their complaints make sense to me, particularly in the area of college sports.  I have long been of the opinion that professional sports should run their own talent development programs instead of having colleges do it.  However, I am definitely biased in that area, as I have neither interest nor aptitude in any sport.

None the less, it is generally considered that higher education costs compete with health care costs as the fasting-rising expenses in our economy.  And, like health care, if we can't find a way to put some brakes on the ever-increasing costs, I fear that a college education will become increasingly unaffordable for the average family.

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