Friday, December 14, 2007

College Tuition Troubles

First, I want to say that I completely agree with KDon's post regarding final exams. Everyone is busy--get over it.

Harvard University announced this week that it is going to reduce tuition for middle class families. Those families who make less than $60,000 per year are already able to send their children to Harvard for free, and now families with incomes of up to $180,000 will not have to spend more than 10% of that income to pay for the $45,600 that make up the annual costs of attending Harvard.

Of course, colleges and universities have come under fire recently for their exponential tuition increases. For each of the past 25 years, tuition has risen at roughly 3 percentage points higher than inflation. With about 4200 colleges and universities nationwide, why hasn't competition reduced prices? The explanations are manifold.

For one, selective colleges have such a high demand that they are relatively immune to market pressures. Students, and especially parents, are willing to put up serious cash in order to bring home diplomas from choice colleges.

Another issue is the growth of unusual student interests, manifesting themselves through gender studies departments and courses on maple syrup. As William F. Buckley Jr. wrote, "academic offerings for students with exotic interests are understandable, but some college administrators think themselves delinquent if they do not offer a course in jujitsu."

Then there is the fact that college and university financial aid has become part of the welfare state. There is more government aid offered than ever, and if universities raise their tuition, they know not to be worried because the government will surely be there to make up the difference. One wonders how Hillsdale College, the only U.S. college to refuse any type of government aid, is able to keep its tuition in check. Coincidence? I think not.

Finally, there are now twice as many university administrators per student as there were in the 1970s. This is an alarming statistic.

Recently, I was discussing Notre Dame with a newly hired professor. I asked him what has been the most disappointing thing he has noticed about the university. "The bureaucratic red tape," he said. "I expected that problem to be much less severe here than at big state universities."

Think again. If we are to reduce the costs of college tuition, a first but unpopular step would be to cut the size of adminstration and devote the majority of resources to teaching. Yeah, teaching--even at a premier "research university." Amazing, huh?

Let's learn something about the costs of higher education from Hillsdale. It doesn't take a $6 billion endowment to keep costs in line. It just takes common sense and right priorities.


Anonymous said...

Well said...much appreciated.

Laura said...

Are you putting gender studies departments on the same level of absurdness as maple syrup and jujitsu classes? Gender studies departments, at least Notre Dame's, make valuable contributions to academic discourse- and believe it or not, it's not all pro-choice feminist stuff. I accidentally ended up in a gender studies course last semester (I thought it was just a plain English class) and I lost a lot of my preconceived notions about gender studies.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment above re: gender studies, at least at ND. I think what the poster meant to say, and what William F. Buckley might say, is that it is perfectly ok for a university to cater to the "exotic interests" of its students, but that it simply is a matter of picking and choosing. That is, keep "exotic" courses that also have worthwhile content, such as gender studies, but ditch the maple syrup (although, I suspect, that one probably came from upper New England, which of course is quite rightly concerned with maple syrup). If administrators insist on having it all, then they should be prepared to make the case for tuition increases that outpace inflation, and to tell people the truth about what that money is being used for.