This Is Why College Costs So Much
What has risen 400% in 25 years? Not housing prices in San Francisco, but that’s an excellent guess. Nope, it’s college tuition. That one-liner factoid takes me out at the knees and makes me want to hurl.
Phenomenal amounts of money are spent, borrowed, and paid back over lifetimes for higher education. At some point, one hopes, the college students will become educated enough to figure out when the price of education is just too damned much.
Since that hasn’t happened yet, two professors were interviewed on NPR recently so they could explain WHY college costs so much. It turns out that any and all tuition payers (students, parents) are at the sticky bottom of any given school’s list of people to impress or keep happy. The violent rage I’m feeling makes me warm inside.
Economist Richard Vedder of Ohio University and Stephen Trachtenberg of George Washington University tell NPR host Neal Conan what in the hell is going on with college costs.
You can read listen to the story (30 min.) or you can read the transcript in its entirety here.
Excerpt from the transcript:
CONAN: I wanted to ask, you wrote an op-ed for CNN.com, “Why Does College Cost So Much,” you argued essentially that colleges have absolutely no incentive to reduce costs.
VEDDER: That’s right. Now, there are a few exceptions to that. The for-profit higher education sector is certainly a clear exception, but by and large, most colleges do not get rewards. The presidents of the universities, the senior officials, the key faculty do not get rewarded by being efficient, by teaching more students for the same amount of money or whatever, by using buildings efficiently, six, seven days a week, et cetera. There’s no incentive in that for them.
So there’s no great compulsion to reduce costs, and yet spending more money often has rewards. It can help improve your rankings in the magazine rankings that go on by magazines like US News or Forbes. And it is actually beneficial to colleges, or at least it’s perceived to be beneficial to colleges, to spend more money: nicer facilities for students so you attract more students, better students, whatever, lower teaching loads for faculty so that they’re happy and content and not likely to cause a lot of problems.
So the job of a university president is to raise a lot of money, tons of money, and distribute it, and not too much attention is placed on lowering the cost to the consumer.
CONAN: In fact you argue that the consumer, the student and then the student’s parents, but they come last in a list that includes, you mentioned the faculty, key faculty members are bribed with lower teaching loads. You mentioned alumni, who are in a sense are bribed to make donations to the school through successful sports programs and other things like that, and trustees.
VEDDER: Yes, I think that’s right. Remember, colleges and universities don’t have the profit motive that compels people in the traditional private sector to cut costs, be efficient, try to get more bang for the buck, as it were. So that is sort of lacking. It’s a nonprofit sector, and there’s a lot of third-party payments, that is government money and also private, philanthropic money, that comes into universities that reduces the need to depend utterly, solely on the consumer to foot the bills, to pay the freight, as it were.
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Posted by Alexa Harrington
(image: new Stanford University library)