Wednesday, December 03, 2008

439 percent

that's how much college tuition has increased over the past 25 years; by contrast, median family income has risen only 147 percent. (numbers adjusted for inflation.)

these, according to this morning's new york times, from a report by the national center for public policy and higher education. (the 36-page report is available in PDF format here.)

as a share of family income these numbers are especially staggering: "Last year, the net cost at a four-year public university amounted to 28 percent of the median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of the median family income."

unfortunately neither the nyt article nor the report itself (whose main objective is to assess the individual 50 states measure up in terms of preparation for, participation in, affordability of, and completion rates for higher education) give much sense of the root causes of such increases: at state universities, the increases have "largely been to make up for declining state appropriations."

the center's president, patrick callan: "When the economy is good, and state universities are somewhat better funded, we raise tuition as little as possible. When the economy is bad, we raise tuition and sock it to families, when people can least afford it."

except that this is visibly untrue, as the center's own graphic demonstrates with its steady upward trajectory for tuitions regardless of whether the u.s. economy is doing well or poorly.

no folks, unless you have blinders on or are simply in serious denial, it's quite easy to see (especially in private universities) where the cost increases are being incurred. it's certainly not going to faculty budget lines.

UPDATE: rodney's absolutely right: in that last paragraph i should've written "easy to see where some of the cost increases are being incurred." clearly there are other factors contributing to rising tuition costs beyond bloated senior administrator costs, including but not limited to bloated middle management ranks, bloated coaching and athletic program costs, etc.

i would also add that it's the same patrick callan, who erroneously asserts in today's article that tuition is directly tied to the national economy, this is one and the same patrick callan who with the news two weeks ago of some university presidents turning in their some of their six- and seven-figure salaries, declared: "People are getting tuition increases, some faculty are facing layoffs, it just doesn’t look too good for presidents, no matter how capable they are, to be getting so much money." notice he says, "it just doesn't look too good," not "it's fundamentally wrong." he's clearly more concerned with image than substance.

in other words, it sometimes seems those officially sanctioned to diagnose the problem are least effectively able to. (in fairness, callan elsewhere writes: "On the other hand, universities are spending huge amounts of money on construction – for new dorms, new athletic facilities, and new student centers – as part of an 'amenities arms race.' And administrative overhead at many universities has ballooned, due to an explosion in niche student services and fund raising apparatuses. It is doubtful that these developments have improved student learning.")

1 comment:

rodney k said...

Hi Tom,

Sobering post. The link at the end didn't quite clear up for me where all the increased tuition money is going though. President's salaries (and that of other top administrators) can't absorb the whole 439% increase, can it? At the places I've taught, I've watched "administration" expand--shiny new buildings, expanded parking lots, new offices of Outreach and Extended Education and the like--but I'm never sure what it is exactly they do, and how much of the rising costs to lay at their feet.

Which sectors/functions of administration have expanded? HR? Fundraising? Expectations for sports programs (but wouldn't that be self-sustaining)? Has the cost doing science gone up? (I know the rising cost of science journals has severely affected library budgets.)

Meanwhile, for as long as I can remember (going back to 1990), humanities programs have faced cuts, routine budget crises, threats of amalgamations with other small departments, hiring freezes, etc. For whom in higher ed (besides presidents) are things going well?