On College Costs: What Can and Should be Done?

The president has been touring this week, holding town hall type meetings at college campuses in New York and Pennsylvania discussing his new plan to help make college more affordable for more people.  When I hear people talk about making college and higher education more affordable, the following thoughts go through my head:

 

As a student I want cheaper tuition and better access to higher education.

 

As a citizen I understand that more people with access to better education is a good thing for society as a whole.

 

As a hopeful professor, I want to be paid.

 

College tuition is rising – that is undeniable.  The questions then must be asked –Why are colleges raising tuition?  Where do college tuition moneys go in the University?   Are their expenses rising at a rate equal to the rise in tuition?

What costs does a university have? — They have to pay faculty and staff and employees’ salaries; they also pay for equipment and materials such as computers, phones, fax machines, copiers, paper, pens and pencils, etc; research supplies and materials – I admit I don’t have a great sciences background, but I can imagine that a lot of the research they do can be expensive with expensive, sensitive equipment and materials and then again they need to pay for the faculty or student assistants that are doing the research.   In that kind of ironic circular logic,  I know a lot of students get student jobs, paid by the university to do things such as custodial work or assist professors, and they need these jobs to have money to buy food and pay rent as well as to pay their tuition.   So, the university pays students to work who then in turn pay the university to study. Universities (at least BYU where I went) also seem to be constantly under construction, building newer buildings to meet with the demand and the needs of the students and the faculty.   I had some classes at BYU that were in some pretty old buildings on campus, with outdated technology in the classrooms that desperately needed updating.

One area that gets criticized a lot is college sports.  A lot of money goes into college sports, from salaries of coaches and staff to all of the equipment that is needed for the players to play to promotional materials and I guess that universities pay to have games aired on television.   I admit, I am not all that familiar with the whole sports thing and how it all works, but there is a lot of money that is spent on sports.   On the other hand, tickets to these sports games, especially the football games at most major universities are pretty expensive.   Are they not able to recoup most of the cost of sports programs from these ticket sales?

But, the point stands – Universities have expenses, and as someone who wants to someday teach at the collegiate level, I want to make sure that I make a salary that allows me to live comfortably with my family.   True, no one goes into academia expecting to be a millionaire, but I believe that a professor should be paid enough so that he can support his family and live well.   In the debate about colleges becoming too expensive for people to afford, do we look at the colleges’ expenses and what is driving the rising tuition costs?

I have heard a lot of politicians talk recently about what to do about student loans and making student loan debts easier for students to manage, suggesting caps on how much a student can be expected to pay back each month and other ideas focused on what to do with students who already have incurred debts to pay for their college education.

To me that is focusing on one symptom of the problem, but ignoring the root cause.   Why are universities charging students so much?  Why have tuition rates increased so much so rapidly? Where is all of that money going? What can we do with colleges and universities to help lower their costs?

In doing a little research for this blog post, I was able to Google and find some budget reports for a few universities in past years (University of California 2012-2013, Duke University 2008)  and the interesting thing I saw was that tuition and fees only make up about 15% of the budget for these universities.   Tuition is not a major part of where universities receive their money, so the question remains, why has tuition increased so much so rapidly?  And what can be done to help universities reign in their costs so that we can make higher education more affordable for more people?

The bottom line is: Money has to come from somewhere, and universities do need money to operate.   I believe we need a balanced approach, using some of several ideas that have been presented to resolve the issue.   We need to help universities manage their costs so that they can lower tuition rates for students, we need to work with lenders and financial institutions to make student loan money more available and on better terms so that students have access to the money they need to pay for college, and maybe something can be done on the tax side as well, making more of college tuition and fees tax-deductible as incentive and to make paying for college just a little bit easier.

I love this clip, I like that he says it should be hard paying for college.  It is an accomplishment, something to be proud of. But, it should be just a little bit easier.

 

What are your thoughts?  Any suggestions on making this whole thing a little easier for more people?  What can be done?

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3 thoughts on “On College Costs: What Can and Should be Done?

  1. Jack Reylan

    Obama’s top constintuency is the professulas who want your kids to all become commy nutty organizers to lobby for their filthy grant grubbing. The best way to combat college costs is to hire people with real experience as high school teachers and have them teach real stuf instead of more aghadhimmic trash! If we applied securities laws on aghadhimmic grant grubbing, half the professulas in America would be in Jail! Start jailing professulas who molest, and stop harrassing our clergy!

    1. dteeps

      I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the terms “professulas” or “commy nutty” or “aghadhimmic”.

      And what do you mean by having high school teachers teach “real stuf” ? What do you think should be taught in high school?

      And do you have any suggestions on how we can hire “people with experience as high school teachers” when it is hard to find people who are even barely qualified who want to be high school teachers? But that is a post for another day — how we find and hire better teachers, or how we make our current teachers better.

      Thank you for your thoughts, please elaborate and we can discuss and debate this!

  2. Thank goodness for BYU, which has cheap tuition (subsidized, of course)!

    I think part of the problem is that going to college is becoming more of a social game rather than a way to learn and grow. Reminds me of an episode of The Cosby Show where Pam is told that her grades aren’t good enough to realistically expect to be able to go to an Ivy League school, and she throws a tantrum because she wants to go where her friends are going. Anyway, if people went to the less-popular public 2-year schools where tuition is cheaper (or even public 4-year schools, see http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-and-fees-sector-and-state-over-time), combined with an increased interested in trade schools rather than non-technical degrees that currently result in unemployment, the prices would better balance. That being said, it’s nearly impossible to roll back costs.

    I also feel strongly that three other things could help stem the tide: a decrease in the ease of lots of credit (read: student loans of more than $1-2K), social acceptance of taking a year off to earn money for school as needed, and making it the responsibility of the student rather than the parent to bear the bulk of the burden in paying their way (generating a real sense of accomplishment rather than a free ride of 5-6 years).

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