Why is College So Expensive?
Students today graduate with an average of $43,000 in student loan debt. If they go on to graduate school, it can become as high as $100,000 or more. This debt threatens to be one of the most critical threats to the national economy – as bad, perhaps, as the financial meltdown of 2008. Kids with this kind of debt will not be buying homes or new cars; they will not be wild consumers when so much of their monthly incomes must be spent on loan repayments. So, how did we get to this point? How did it come to be that tuition, even at public institutions has quadrupled in the last 30 years?
The Answer Given by the Universities
College administrators will all tell you that the continued rise in tuition costs is because public funding by state governments has been horribly slashed over the past 30 years, and we just accept their answers – after all, they are the experts. What you don’t understand is that this is the “Big Lie.” In truth, funding for universities (except perhaps in Wisconsin this year) has increased steadily every year, even adjusted for inflation, and in terms of percentage increase, it has averaged more than the % increase of the Defense Department?
The Real Answer
The real answers lie in several factors:
- Millennials want to go to college, and their parents want them to. So, campuses are receiving more applicants than they can accept. And it is really the law of supply and demand at work. Universities know they will fill their classrooms no matter what they charge, so they just keep raising tuition costs, year after year.
- While professors’ salaries have only seen moderate increase over the past 30 years, the increase in salaries of top administrators have been almost nauseating, so that most now have 7-figure annual salaries with huge benefits packages. And administrative costs in general have increased about 6 times what they were 30 years ago.
- Universities are “ramping up” their renovations, so that buildings, dorms, and student centers are beginning to look like resorts. The reason for this is that they want to compete with all other universities, so that their applicant pool becomes larger and they can then “cherry pick” the best.
- While most universities claim that their expensive athletic programs pay for themselves, in fact this is not the case. When a new stadium or athletic facility is built, it is not fully paid for by donors and ticket sales, as they would have you believe. And coaches’ salaries? They are in 7-figures too. If, in fact, an athletic program was truly profitable, then it should be giving that profit back to the university to assist with financial help for students who support those programs, in spirit and with their money.
- Antiquated and outdated programs remain in place. There are entire departments with half-filled classrooms, because those majors are no longer relevant. The costs of keeping those programs is more expensive every year, as students opt out of them. In many cases, the only way to justify some of the offerings in these departments is to make them required general education courses, just to fill the desks. Thus, the computer science major still reads Beowulf and writes the required college essay that is pointless.
Are There Solutions?
Of course there are, but affecting the changes that are necessary will not come quickly, nor will they occur without large amounts screaming and hollering and political lobbying on the part of state university system administrators. We can only hope that the next generation of would-be college students puts its foot down and refuses to put up with paying huge amounts of money for a university education that is largely irrelevant.