Saturday, January 28, 2012

I think we need to understand college cost structures better

This post (in the midst of a long, long single page blog) was very interesting:

College Costs and Quality? I rather suspect that my experience as a university professor is pretty typical, although certainly there are much more dramatic. Over the past 15 years my real (inflation adjusted - just using the CPI) salary has fallen16.5%, 831/2 cents on the dollar, not counting various costs the universities have shifted to the faculty (and not accounting for the fact, which nobody seems to when considering the situation of seniors in our society, that as one ages medical costs are an increasing proportion of expenditures, and they have been rising sharply). The "special" equipment I need is a decent laptop computer, the provision to our department members of which has enabled them to reduce secretarial support. The courses I used to teach as seminars are now in amphitheaters, and, while the substantial advances in IT (when the equipment works) have certainly improved that teaching environment, it is still most certainly not comparable to the learning in the interaction, and professor attention to individual students, of the seminar format. Moreover, tests are inadequate measures of learning, and abysmal measures of creativity, yet evaluating and commenting on papers and projects in classes of this amphitheater size is simply physically impossible, and beyond the capabilities of teaching assistants, in my field anyway. Indeed, I suspect over emphasis on exams (and standardized tests) may actually stunt creativity (assignments here for psychologists and cognitive scientists). 
 I think that there is a real need to understand why costs of college are escalating.  It seems to be a complex problem and I have begun to suspect that simple explanations are likely to be inadequate.  Some of the issues seem to be related to new services (e.g. information technology, increased reporting mandates, student services).  But it is remarkable that salaries for the most expensive workers can drop at the same time as costs are rapidly rising.

Some of this is likely due to loss of state funding.  But private schools have also grown more expensive with time and this cannot be solely attributed to changes in funding.

I would love to see a time series of university budgets, in real dollars, to try and understand this issue better.

1 comment:

  1. The community college I used to work for was founded in the 1960s with this revenue system to cover the budget: 1/3 tuition, 1/3 local property tax, and 1/3 state funding.

    In 2010, only about 1/6 of the money coming in was from the state.