The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much
By PAUL F. CAMPOS
APRIL 4, 2015
BOULDER, Colo. — ONCE upon a time in America, baby boomers paid for college with the money they made from their summer jobs. Then, over the course of the next few decades, public funding for higher education was slashed. These radical cuts forced universities to raise tuition year after year, which in turn forced the millennial generation to take on crushing educational debt loads, and everyone lived unhappily ever after.
This is the story college administrators like to tell when they’re asked to explain why, over the past 35 years, college tuition at public universities has nearly quadrupled, to $9,139 in 2014 dollars. It is a fairy tale in the worst sense, in that it is not merely false, but rather almost the inverse of the truth.
In fact, public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s. … For example, the military’s budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher.
… If over the past three decades car prices had gone up as fast as tuition, the average new car would cost more than $80,000.
Some of this increased spending in education has been driven by a sharp rise in the percentage of Americans who go to college. While the college-age population has not increased since the tail end of the baby boom, the percentage of the population enrolled in college has risen significantly, especially in the last 20 years. Enrollment in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs has increased by almost 50 percent since 1995. As a consequence, while state legislative appropriations for higher education have risen much faster than inflation, total state appropriations per student are somewhat lower than they were at their peak in 1990. …
… a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.
Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.
Federal & state mandates and advocacy groups’ lawsuits (and threats of lawsuits)force universities to hire people to gather data to prove compliance and to preempt lawsuits. Government and advocacy groups view the administrative bloat as the universities’ cost to do business. Universities pass the inflated cost of all that non-instructor administrative overhead on to students.
The other big hit against college affordability is textbooks. Between professors requiring usage of textbooks they “authored” and the proliferation of editions that all but make used textbooks worthless, college textbooks have become a big shakedown operation.