Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Why College is Costly

The high price of a college education in this country is often a major topic of concern. Many people believe that, with decreased funding by the states, even public universities must pay their faculty members handsomely and therefore have had to raise tuition, which has quadrupled in price over the past 35 years.

This narrative is false, as Paul Campos of the University of Colorado shows in some detail in a recent New York Times op-ed piece.

He shows that the rise in tuition has coincided with increased public subsidies for state universities and that the administrators of these schools invariably say that public funding for universities has been cut--an argument I often heard at the University of Central Florida, second largest in the nation--and so the funds have to be generated by ever-increasing student fees.

In fact, Campos shows that public subsidies for higher education in recent years are higher than they were in the sixties or seventies.  And, most tellingly, the increased tuition goes to support the ever-growing costs of administrative positions, which have gone up by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009.  These posts--assistant vice presidents and associate provosts and assistant deans by the dozen, necessitated by increasing enrollments--are funded lavishly, making many deans and other administrators wealthy by the time they retire with handsome pension packages.

Academics who began their careers as educators can easily become corporate bosses, and often millionaires, as the university over the past 40 years has come to resemble a business, with a corporate CEO (president) given bonuses and perks and a huge salary.

The full-time faculty, by contrast, are paid at rates resembling their equivalent salaries thirty years ago.  Whereas 78 percent of faculty were full-time in 1970, when I began as an assistant professor, today 50 percent of state university faculty are part-timers, underpaid adjuncts, who have no benefits, no offices, no job security.  Highly paid administrators, in their ever-increasing numbers, rely on these adjuncts and graduate assistants to teach mainly the lower-level, required core courses.

Having seen close-up how this system works, I am glad that Prof. Campos has zeroed in on the true cause of public higher education's inflationary cost: the vast increase in administrators and their salaries, at least at state universities.

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