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Where Is Your Tuition Going?

American colleges have a lot of practice by now at rationalizing their annual tuition increases, often by blaming the bad economy or state budget cuts. Slate’s Matt Yglesias breaks down these explanations. While it’s true that state support for public universities has fallen over the past few years, universities have increased tuition by more than is required to close that funding gap.

Where is most of that money going? New administrators:

Since colleges are non-profits, ability to charge high prices doesn’t lead to dividend payouts or the acquisition of big cash stockpiles. The money gets spent. And the trend lately has been to spend it on administrators.

All of which is one reason I’m skeptical that you can really do much on the college “cost” front by offering more tuition subsidies. At any given level of subsidy, schools are going to charge families what they can afford to pay and then they’re going to take that money and spend it on the stuff that the people running the school want to spend it on.

Somehow, we don’t think that’s what Congress had in mind when it set up this system.

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  • Anthony

    Who will guard the guards themselves (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes) appears apropos for tuition college fee decisions ongoing.

  • BrianFrankie

    >> Somehow, we don’t think that’s what Congress had in mind when it set up this system.<<

    Oh, I think it is. This is part and parcel of the Blue Model. Those who designed the system were reasonably intelligent, and well aware of where they were going.

    They may not have known every specific permutation of their laws and rules. That is to say, they may not have realised that additional funding would go directly to the creation of a State U Vice Chancellor for Inclusion, Diversity, and Indoctrination. Nevertheless, they put the system in place with the explicit recognition that they were building a technocratic bureaucracy, and they certainly know the general direction where such a bureacracy heads. Perhaps not every Congressperson, and perhaps not every vote, but there were enough people involved and discrete steps along the path to the current system that you can be sure much of it is intentional.
    You underestimate the consciousness of the creators of the present system. This also implies you underestimate the resistance to reformation. The fact of the matter is that many (by no means all, but many, many) creators of, and participants in, the present system actually *like* what they have built. They want more of it, not less. Their fundamental ideological purposes – not only self-interest – are well served by the current system, and pedagogy can take a back seat.
    If you want to change this, you need to change the culture, the mind-set, of the educational establishment. You need to eliminate three quarters of the administrative positions, but also dismiss and replace a goodly portion of the faculty. You want a diverse faculty, who are able to examine any side of any question from any angle, and not fall prey to conventional academic thinking and political correctness.
    We are very far away from the changes required to improve our eductional system.

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