Stay Informed: Why College Tuition Has Increased So Much

Frustrated Student

A topic which has garnered significant attention in recent years – and especially during the presidential campaigns – is the significant increases in college tuition and the consequent backbreaking increases in student debt.

Doug Webber (Temple University) has written an interesting analysis of the cause(s) of this situation for FiveThirtyEight (aka, Nate Silvers & co.).

The overarching message is that there is no single cause of the tuition boom. The reason for rising costs differs based on the type of institution and the state it’s in, and even varies over time. But, at least among public institutions, the dominant factor has been a steady decrease in support for higher education on the part of state legislatures.”

Prior to reading this article my uninformed pseudo-opinion was that the bulk of cost increases came from unnecessary spending. This analysis, however, forces me to rethink that viewpoint.

That said in my (humble? I hope!) opinion, there may still be room for some navel-gazing within higher ed. There are three areas that come to mind:

  1. Reducing expenditures on buildings, especially in instances where existing buildings are sufficient, or where the architecture is unnecessarily elaborate.[1]
  2. Reducing expenditures on unnecessary services, especially in cases where the educational value is questionable and/or the value in recruiting students is minimal.[2]
  3. Utilizing and contributing to open source systems, such as those available from the Kuali Foundation. The prices of higher ed software is often high while the quality of the software is low.

This said, I realize that the potential cost savings I have mentioned above will not make a huge dent in student tuitions…and I would even go so far as to say that I’m not entirely sure the money should go to tuition decreases.

In many cases the faculty and staff of an educational institution are poorly compensated. This can be a social justice issue, which by its very nature should be corrected. It also has indirect negative effects on both the institution and the students. If faculty/staff need to work second jobs to survive, this reduces their availability to the institution and to the students. Tired faculty/staff result in decreased classroom lecture quality, decreased opportunities for personal interactions with students, and increase the more base aspects of our natures (e.g., temper, apathy, etc.).

I’d love to know what you think!

  1. [1]I tend toward pragmatism, as opposed to the aesthetic – so judge the validity of this comment as you may. I’m simply saying that I think most students would prefer lower tuition over highly vaulted ceilings (which result in a significant uptick in heating/cooling costs on an indefinite basis; in addition to the extra cost in construction).
  2. [2]e.g., While I consider it important to maintain functional, clean, and quality gym equipment – the latest and greatest gadgets may not be necessary. Another example might be televisions. I’m not saying not to have them in the residence halls or in the gyms, but I do think that generally they are an unnecessary expense that causes detriment to students. e.g., Many guys I know (including myself) will be drawn to focus on a TV no matter what is on (even if it is extremely uninteresting) and this causes a deterioration in the quality of conversation that can occur and the ability to study/think. As such, I’d suggest they be in recreational areas but avoided in most other areas.