In the beginning, college was intended for the best and the brightest of students. Back in the 1940s, a guy could get a well-paid unionized factory job without even a high school diploma. That was enough for a decent, middle-class lifestyle and a family. In the 1950s and 1960s, education was prioritized, a good move. Dropping out of high school came to be seen as a personal misfortune and a barrier to getting a good job. The well-paying manufacturing jobs started drying up over the decades, and by the 1990s a college education became the new ticket to the middle class.
Since then, the government has encouraged more students to participate in college. The intentions may have been for the best, but the results didn’t work out so well. If (using rough numbers) the best 20% of high school graduates are college material, then encouraging less-qualified students to enroll is going to cause some problems. Since they won’t be able to hack fields which will get them well-paying jobs, then they have to take less-demanding majors.
How does that work out for them after they’ve graduated? Many young people enrolled in college to ride out the recent lousy economy, but learned the hard way that the good jobs they were promised just weren’t there. Worse, they get encumbered with massive student loans. Further, the price of a college education has risen sharply, and not just any degree is a ticket to the middle class any more. For example, STEM degrees are useful (maybe), but fluff degrees are not. One can argue that the fine arts deserve academic study, but there are more unemployed art history grad students than there are new openings for museum curators and art history professors.
What was once a career-makng opportunity is all too often exploitation these days. The question is, why has the cost of education gone up so much? Why are students paying more but receiving less?
Let’s start at the very top. You might be surprised to learn that the average college president has over twice the salary of the average CEO:
College presidents on average earn $377,261 annually, or more than twice the average pay for CEOs, who take home about $176,840 on average each year, according to new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
At the same time, American students face ever-increasing tuition bills, with the growth in college costs for years dwarfing the rate of inflation.
If you thought this was something that only conservatives notice, think again. According to a Mother Jones article, which also touched on the perks for these jobs…
“In 1994, the study’s authors write, two private research university presidents made more than $500,000 (more than $788,000 in current dollars). By 2003, there were 42. While public institutions lag behind private ones—in 2004, 17 presidents of public research institutions were members of the “$500,000 Club”—they are likely to adopt similar practices over time.
The article includes a very interesting infographic showing forty university presidents making over a million dollars a year (data from 2010 and 2012), with the highest making over three million. How are their jobs so demanding that they need that much gravy?
An even greater problem is the runaway growth in administration. Campus Reform (an excellent site) observed:
Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent.
So those are the 1993-2007 statistics. For a more inclusive picture, our good friends at HuffPo noted:
In all, from 1987 until 2011-12—the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 every working day, according to the analysis of federal figures, by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science research group the American Institutes for Research.
“There’s just a mind-boggling amount of money per student that’s being spent on administration,” said Andrew Gillen, a senior researcher at the institutes. “It raises a question of priorities.”
So it looks like administrative jobs have become a make-work program. We’ve heard of welfare and corporate welfare; looks like this is academic welfare. For instance, being an Assistant Dean of Diversity and Inclusion must be a sweet gig for a Social Justice Warrior who can’t get a job in the real world. Still, the students have to pay for the proliferation of paper-pushing positions that didn’t exist thirty years ago, as well as taxpayers who pick up the tab for the rest of college funding.
Professors, too, are getting a pretty hefty piece of the pie:
Through the first half of the 20th century, faculties in academic institutions were generally underpaid relative to other comparably educated members of the workforce. […]
With the 1970s advent of collective bargaining in higher education, this began to change. The result has been more equitable circumstances for college faculty, who deserve salaries comparable to those of other educated professionals. Happily, senior faculty at most state universities and colleges now earn $80,000 to $150,000, roughly in line with the average incomes of others with advanced degrees.
Not changed, however, are the accommodations designed to compensate for low pay in earlier times. Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.
It’s quite a nice job to have. Compare that with a lawyer researching through dusty legal tomes 60+ hours a week, an IT administrator who must be on call 24×7 to respond to outages that can stop a company’s operations, or a surgeon who must make life-and-death decisions. A professor who is very knowledgeable in a valuable field should be paid well, but not all professors qualify. From my own days in the academic meat grinder, I remember quite a few classrooms the size of movie theaters, often taught by teaching assistants who didn’t know English.
Almost all classes require books; that’s understandable. Unfortunately, they’re notoriously expensive. Back when I was in college, the justification for the extreme price was the limited print runs; economy of scale and all that. I could get five bucks off for a used textbook, and sell it back to the bookstore at a pittance at the end of the semester if I wanted.
Many college textbooks are now available by electronic distribution, which means no need to print anything, but prices for them are just as high. That fact exposed the scam for what it is. Let’s get real here. My own book catalog didn’t cost me a cent to write, my distribution pays better royalties than I’d get from printed books, and you can do all that too.
A trick that some professors do is to make a new edition of their own books every year. Some books do require updating (contemporary history and cutting-edge sciences), but some really don’t need updating too frequently. For instance, a calculus textbook from the 1960s (or for that matter, the 1920s) is as good as one that just came out. However, often professors will just rearrange the chapters, change a few words in the preface, and now it’s a new edition. That gets rid of the problem of bookstores selling used books which won’t get the professor new royalties!
It’s a basic economic principle that availability of easy credit is an inflationary pressure. The more people are willing to pay, the more suppliers will feel free to jack up prices. When people can spend beyond their means, many will do so, even though a wise man will avoid debt.
Recall also the events leading up to the 2007-2008 financial crisis: the government decided that everyone deserved to have a house, and loan officers wrote mortgages to everyone with a pulse. When everything went to hell, the government bailed out their “too big to fail” buddies on Wall Street. They also created programs to help borrowers who got themselves over their heads; they weren’t very effective, but all that’s another story.
This is basically what happened with student loans. How has the government responded? Congress caved into the banksters and made it extremely difficult to discharge student loans through bankruptcy. This seems to fly in the face of the legal principle of not treating separate categories differently, but I’m sure some lawyer will have a field day with that one of these days.
That leaves those who got ripped off with few other options. So the students who can’t find decent jobs are pretty much stuck with it, unlike those who get over their heads with credit cards or a house note. Further, predatory lending has become a big problem with student loans.
What can be done individually?
Parents need to be selective about where they’re sending their children and what they’ll be studying. Some things just aren’t going to be marketable: women’s studies, other grievance studies, sociology (for the whole cultural Marxism smorgasbord), art history, journalism, etc. Remember; Dad’s money, Dad’s rules. The penalty for disregarding this will be having a 28 year old living in your basement who has (perhaps) a part time job making expensive coffee.
Students should take care to manage their finances carefully. Although I got an acceptance letter from an Ivy League school, I went to an affordable university so I wouldn’t run out of money. I worked whenever I could. This left less time to study, but I don’t regret that. I graduated owing less than $10K. I did my best to live within my means, while others were running up their debts like there’s no tomorrow.
Another thing students can do is enroll in community colleges first to knock out courses that will be required by their preferred university; just make sure the credits will transfer. Also, they should apply for whatever grants and scholarships are available, and read the fine print on any loan paperwork.
If you’re only seeking to expand your knowledge, the good news is that many universities offer free online lectures, one of the best things to come out of academia lately, and I’m happy to give credit where it’s due. The Khan Academy is a great resource for math, with some other subjects included.
What can be done societally?
We’re long overdue for cleaning house in academia. For ages, they’ve been indoctrination centers for cultural Marxism. In the 1960s, this was tolerated under the notion of campuses as places for the free exchange of ideas, but now they’re anything but that. Every year, thousands of personable young kids get turned into Social Justice Warriors brainwashed by cultural Marxist memes. Since tenured faculty can’t be removed, there’s no way to get rid of underperformers or those doing nothing but pushing thinly-disguised propaganda.
Other than that, the administration bloated with paper pushers should be trimmed down too. There’s no reason a college can’t operate with the same infrastructure it had in the 1980s. As for the predatory lending problem, the interest rates should be regulated, and perhaps include a maximum cap of 150% of the original loan amount. That’s quite enough gravy for the banksters as it is.
Fixing these problems will require a top-down effort, which will cause much resistance by entrenched forces, along with great weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Until then, consumer choice will be the best way to go. Choosing the truly best universities and academic departments will reward good efforts, and help to starve the beast where the worst is concerned.