In reality, however, the numbers show that wage inflation is — literally — the least of the problems when it comes to university cost inflation. Check out this excellent report, for instance, entitled “Trends in College Spending, 1999-2009″. The first thing to note is on page 26: spending on faculty compensation is never more than 40% of total spending, and “has remained steady or decreased slightly over time”. Then have a look at the numbers.
Overall, if we exclude for-profit schools, which were a tiny part of the landscape in 1999, we have seen tuition fees rise by 32% between 1999 and 2009. Over the same period, instruction costs rose just 5.6% — the lowest rate of inflation of any of the components of education services. (“Student services costs” and “operations and maintenance costs” saw the greatest inflation, at 15.2% and 18.1% respectively, but even that is only half the rate that tuition increased.)
The real reason why tuition has been rising so much has nothing to do with Baumol, and everything to do with the government. Page 31 of the report is quite clear: “except for private research institutions,” it says, “tuitions were increasing almost exclusively to replace losses from state revenues or other private revenue sources.”
In other words, tuition costs are going up just because state subsidies are going down. Every time there’s a state fiscal crisis, subsidies get cut; once cut, they never get reinstated. And so the proportion of the cost of college which is borne by the student has been rising steadily for decades.
There are other culprits, too, behind the rise in tuition costs. Surowiecki touches on one when he talks about “the arms-race problem”, where “colleges compete to lure students by investing in expensive things, like high-profile faculty members, fancy facilities, and a low student-to-teacher ratio”. Another is simply the ever-increasing amounts of money being spent on administration rather than instruction. And a third is the fact that administrators at many high-profile universities have no incentive to decrease costs, and in fact have an incentive to increase costs, since total spending outlay tends to show up as an input in university-ranking algorithms.
But of all the reasons why tuition’s going up, teacher productivity is — literally — at the bottom of the list. Whether or not teachers today are or are not more productive than they were in 1980 (and I suspect that actually they are more productive), that’s not the reason student debt in America is approaching one trillion dollars.*
What makes this a love letter is the idea I want at once to express and in expressing, to make irresistible to you—the idea that knowledge work in the academy is most powerful because it is a domain of love, by which I mean a place in which intimacy, desire, attachment, and investment all hold considerable sway in keeping the machine running smoothly. Or otherwise. So this is meant at once to serve as an expression of love and to carry a distinctly Marxist feminist lesson about it—particularly, that the idea of love has never been far from relations of domination and exploitation.
Why are there so many grad students/adjunct profs?
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