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A tax time bomb, slowly ticking away
December 18, 2012 7:37 AM   Subscribe

Income based repayment is touted as a solution to rapidly rising college costs in the US. But there is a hefty tax bill looming for people who take advantage of this program.
posted by reenum (134 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Free college education is probably the best solution to rapidly rising college costs. I don't know why we demand an educated workforce and then make it as difficult as possible to teach that workforce.
posted by xingcat at 7:39 AM on December 18, 2012 [27 favorites]


I just (as in two minutes ago) finished gov't loan paperwork for back-to-school stuff. I've held off for years because I'm terrified of having debt around my neck until I die. Unfortunately at this point in my life the other options open to me seem even worse, so.. here I go.
posted by curious nu at 7:45 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Um, the easy answer to this is regulate what universities charge for tuition. It works quite well in Canada. I went to school at an excellent midsized university for about $5,000CDN/year in tuition and fees. You can do it for much less in Quebec where they heavily subsidize tuition as well.
posted by Canageek at 7:45 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Some people see opportunity in that fact. A company called the Advantage Group in San Diego is teaming up with investment advisers and insurance agents to advise high-debt individuals on how to maximize the benefits of income-based repayment. Its business model is to take a cut of whatever those financial professionals earn, say through commissions, when those professionals persuade their debt-laden clients to set aside money to pay the eventual tax bill. The commissions would come from those professionals’ selling investments to the people who have set the money aside.
we are truly living in a libertarian paradise.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:46 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Free college education is probably the best solution to rapidly rising college costs. I don't know why we demand an educated workforce and then make it as difficult as possible to teach that workforce.

If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have? We're already at a place where people are all but forced to get master's degrees to be competitive, as the woman in the picture atop the linked article was -- how will free college do anything but increase the number of people who need to assume graduate-school debt?
posted by Etrigan at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Income-Based Repayment (IBR) is a repayment plan that caps your required monthly payments on the major types of federal student loans at an amount intended to be affordable based on income and family size.

Oh good, now colleges will go the way of high schools and only teach stuff that is intended to make you employable, so they can get paid back faster. Goodbye arts and music programs! Goodbye learning any math that isn't directly applicable to calculating interest rates!
posted by DU at 7:48 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the Rolling Jubilee debt forgiveness program has the problem. Their FAQ says:

Will the Rolling Jubilee have to file a 1099-C Cancellation of Debt form with the IRS?

No. The Rolling Jubilee will earn no income from the lending of money and is therefore exempt from filing a Form 1099-C under the Internal Revenue Code Section 6050P.

but they don't say how well reviewed that is.
posted by mkb at 7:49 AM on December 18, 2012


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

This is icky in so many ways. For one thing, it's a direct statement of "the rich get richer is a GOOD thing". For another, why are you measuring education in dollars?
posted by DU at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Unfortunately at this point in my life the other options open to me seem even worse, so.. here I go.

Personally, no job and no debt compares favorably to no job and high debt.
posted by stopgap at 7:50 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Oh good, now colleges will go the way of high schools and only teach stuff that is intended to make you employable, so they can get paid back faster

The colleges aren't the ones making the loans (for the most part), and the federal government guarantees the loans anyway.

And that's the flip-side of this forgiveness business. Once forgiveness kicks in the government is going to be on the hook for tens of billions of dollars every year, only a fraction of which it will have any hope of making up through tax on the forgiven debt. And that's assuming the law isn't changed to make such forgiven debt untaxed or taxed at a low rate.
posted by jedicus at 7:53 AM on December 18, 2012


Personally, no job and no debt compares favorably to no job and high debt.

Well, I've had no job and no debt for 10+ years as I've struggled with illness, plus a few more years as I came out of said illness but still haven't found work. I feel physically awful having to be dependent on others, and I know that even if I could find a shitty retail job, I don't want to still be doing that in ten years -- and I'm finally at a point where I can envision myself even being alive ten years from now, which was kind of a problem before.

So it's either college/university, or wandering off to live in the woods. Woods are nice but all my friends are here in the city. I've done my research and feel pretty confident on my major, in that if there are no jobs for me, it probably means civilization has collapsed and I don't need to worry about debt anymore. We'll see how it goes!
posted by curious nu at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Oh good, now colleges will go the way of high schools and only teach stuff that is intended to make you employable, so they can get paid back faster. Goodbye arts and music programs! Goodbye learning any math that isn't directly applicable to calculating interest rates!

now? this already happened at the state unis and no one really noticed.

imagine an ideal world where education was free and equal, from primary school on through university. the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers were as equally likely to become janitors as doctors or lawyers... or even more likely to become janitors than doctors or lawyers because there is more demand for janitors. can you imagine that world?

the high price of higher ed is actually a benefit to the middle class of the Reagan generation. in exchange for a sharply smaller and richer middle class, we have raised the barrier of entry into the middle class so that the sons and daughters of the professional classes are more likely to achieve the lifestyle they grew up with.

people who advocate for free higher ed imagine that it would be the same ticket to economic prosperity. the only way it can be a ticket to prosperity is if it is expensive. they imagine that "free higher ed" is the same as a broad middle class but it isn't. the broad middle class of the US was built on paying skilled laborers high wages. we desperately need "free" education but the cost is that it won't be a guarantee of (relative) wealth.
posted by ennui.bz at 7:58 AM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

WTF? A bachelor's degree should not be a signifier that you could afford to pay for college.
posted by kmz at 7:59 AM on December 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


Some people see opportunity in that fact. A company called the Advantage Group in San Diego is teaming up with investment advisers and insurance agents to advise high-debt individuals on how to maximize the benefits of income-based repayment. Its business model is to take a cut of whatever those financial professionals earn, say through commissions, when those professionals persuade their debt-laden clients to set aside money to pay the eventual tax bill. The commissions would come from those professionals’ selling investments to the people who have set the money aside.

I don't care for libertarians either but I'm pretty sure they're not hugely in favour of manipulating government loan programmes, they'd want to abolish them entirely.

If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

Probably as much as it does in places where it's already free or very cheap, which is still significant.

Oh good, now colleges will go the way of high schools and only teach stuff that is intended to make you employable, so they can get paid back faster. Goodbye arts and music programs! Goodbye learning any math that isn't directly applicable to calculating interest rates!

I don't understand this statement, but then, neither do you.
posted by atrazine at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

WTF seconded. Sorry, Etrigan, that is one seriously f'ed up point of view.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:03 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, the easy answer to this is regulate what universities charge for tuition. It works quite well in Canada. I went to school at an excellent midsized university for about $5,000CDN/year in tuition and fees. You can do it for much less in Quebec where they heavily subsidize tuition as well.

You actually have two thoughts here -- tuition regulation and tuition subsidy. Plenty of states in the US like the first idea while disinvesting themselves as fast as possible from the second. This, of course, serves to starve higher education, exacerbating rather than easing its problems.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:04 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

There's still the barrier that you have to be smart enough and hard-working enough to do the coursework and pass the tests.
posted by octothorpe at 8:04 AM on December 18, 2012 [17 favorites]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

This is icky in so many ways. For one thing, it's a direct statement of "the rich get richer is a GOOD thing".


I'm ever so sorry to be "icky" about it, but the fact is that a high school diploma used to be an all-but-guarantee that you'd get a job. Then a lot of people started going to college, so a bachelor's degree became that guarantee. Now, as was noted in this very article, a bachelor's degree is not sufficient anymore, so people are getting master's degrees just to get jobs at all rather than to get better jobs or for love of the subject area.

If it's "icky" to point out that increasing availability of a thing means there will be more of it and it will therefore be less valuable (or precious, or distinctive, or however you want to measure a thing's scarcity going downward), then fine. I'm icky.

For another, why are you measuring education in dollars?

Well, the person I was responding to that you didn't bother to quote was couching free college in terms of an educated workforce. If you want to make the argument that it benefits society, then fine. That's a slightly different argument to have.
posted by Etrigan at 8:06 AM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Etrigan, that's only partially true. The U.S.'s labor market has also changed plenty since the 1960s. Working class jobs, I.e. those forms of employment that don't require more than a high school diploma if that, have largely disappeared overseas. The few that remain are subject to slashes in pay and benefits to keep up with competition in the global labor market. All of which has the effect of an upward pressure to get "a college education" at any cost and our glorious leaders in Washington are all too happy to encourage this behavior to distract from the loss of jobs.

Furthermore, even if we are producing more undergraduate degree holders than our labor requirements demand (which is likely the case), it doesn't make sense to charge the full cost of education as a barrier to entry, unless you like living in a plutocratic nightmare world. That will do nothing but ensure the well-to-do have degrees in two, three generations and everyone else will be in debt and working three service sector jobs to pay it down because we offered no alternative routes to future career prospects besides driving oneself into debt at some $50k/year internet university.
posted by deathpanels at 8:07 AM on December 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


For another, why are you measuring education in dollars?

Because the vast majority of students in the American higher education system do?
posted by atrazine at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


WTF? A bachelor's degree should not be a signifier that you could afford to pay for college.

but it is. everyone with a college degree loves the idea of free higher ed, how many of them love the idea of paying doctors closer to what janitors make?

(actually, there are hardly any janitors left, all of those jobs have been converted into part-time slave labor positions)

Probably as much as it does in places where it's already free or very cheap, which is still significant.

in continental europe, where tuition is still relatively cheap, entry into university is tightly controlled. in germany, say, you basically know whether you will go to uni or not by the equivalent of the US 6th grade. and this decision is made for you by your teachers and is by no means free of social prejudice. higher ed may be free but the class of people who are allowed to attend is quite small by US standards. so, the value of the uni degree is artificially high because the pool of people with higher degrees is artificially low.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:08 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


We're already at a place where people are all but forced to get master's degrees to be competitive

Jesus, I really didn't need to hear that.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:12 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have?

WTF? A bachelor's degree should not be a signifier that you could afford to pay for college.


What should it be, then, considering that it always has been this?

WTF seconded. Sorry, Etrigan, that is one seriously f'ed up point of view.

It's not a point of view, it's a question. Think about the answer before you get all het up about how I'm a horrible person.

For the record: I think college should be cheaper. I think more tax money should go to keeping public schools affordable. But I think there's a distinction between "college should be affordable" and "college should be free," because like it or not, the latter outlook means that college=high school.

We should have better vocational programs, and we should be willing to pay labor a living wage. The answer to janitors not making enough money is not "Send all the janitors to college."

If you had told me when I woke up this morning that I would be essentially agreeing with ennui.bz, I would have told you that you were crazy, but there it is.
posted by Etrigan at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh good, now colleges will go the way of high schools and only teach stuff that is intended to make you employable, so they can get paid back faster. Goodbye arts and music programs! Goodbye learning any math that isn't directly applicable to calculating interest rates!
I don't understand this statement, but then, neither do you.


I don't know how it relates to income-based repayment, but take a look at roughly every single thread on Metafilter ever related to student debt. It's 'let's all worship at the alter of STEM [whatever that turns out to be], sod all else'.
posted by hoyland at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Free college education is probably the best solution to rapidly rising college costs.

Free from whose perspective? If you go to college and join the workforce, you're paying for college one way or another. Right now for all the sound and fury the debate just seems to be about when payment is due.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:13 AM on December 18, 2012


Make college harder and more comprehensive and CHEAP!

Raise the academic barriers a little and lower the economic ones, instead of the reverse. It's like this country has intentionally made all the wrong decisions.

health care, yeah let's make that difficult to afford, but at the same time have the most advanced systems in the world. Higher education for any damn person able to go into hock for the lifetimes no matter maturity level or actual academic prowess. The right to own a gun for almost any reason whatsoever, but free speech can be confined to specific zones....

Some days it makes me want to go stick my head in the microwave. I mean I know no country is perfect, we all have warts but damn if Americans don't seem to be racing towards the bottom with an anchor around our neck.

Mayan Apocalypse? I wish.
posted by edgeways at 8:16 AM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Point is, the education system is meant to fulfill the nation's labor requirements. (Or rather, this is one function.) When you start talking in terms of using economic forces to keep people out of school, you are missing the nature of the problem. We are not properly tying undergraduate enrollment to the labor department projections, so we are producing more graduates than we need, which dillutes the labor market and leads to high unemployment among recent graduates and lower pay. If undergrads in X major really have no use in the market, if such graduates are destined for unemployment or underemployment, we should lower undergraduate enrollments through a merit-based system.
posted by deathpanels at 8:18 AM on December 18, 2012


From the White House link: Although lower monthly payments may be better for some borrowers, lower payments may also mean you make payments for longer and the longer it takes to pay your loans, the more interest you pay compared to the standard repayment plan.

This... bothers me. I applaud the idea of tying repayment to what people make, but the penalties for taking advantage of the program still penalizes graduates for not making enough. When we require, for example, school teachers to have Masters degrees, then continually attack their pay and benefits, this is adding injury to insult.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2012 [8 favorites]


Furthermore, even if we are producing more undergraduate degree holders than our labor requirements demand (which is likely the case), it doesn't make sense to charge the full cost of education as a barrier to entry, unless you like living in a plutocratic nightmare world.

But we are living in that "nightmare world," it will just take some more time to fully realize it. One of the pillars of the Reagan revolution was that highly educated professionals were going to get paid more, relative to uneducated labor. The so-calld "YUPPIE" was a political creation. The bargain was that in exchange for getting paid more, YUPPIEs would support the dismantling of the social welfare network of which access to education is just one part.

Raise the academic barriers a little and lower the economic ones, instead of the reverse. It's like this country has intentionally made all the wrong decisions.

But that just reinforces inequalities of education at the lower levels. So many lower class kids never realize what an education meant until they "accidentally" found themselves in college.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2012


Free college education is probably the best solution to rapidly rising college costs.

Well, yes. But that's like saying "free gold is the best solution to rising gold prices" or "free energy is the best solution to rising energy prices." I suspect that what you're actually advocating here is not "free college education" but that the state should assume the cost of education rather than individual students and their families doing so. That's fine and there's a great deal to be said for the idea--but it doesn't magically make college education "free." It means we're paying for it out of tax revenue. It means tax rates would have to rise very steeply. And who does the burden of these increased taxes fall on? I'm sure it's nice to think "ha ha, the rich will pay and the rest of us won't!" but there isn't enough money in soaking the rich to foot a bill that large. No, that's a bill that we're all going to have to shoulder.

That may still be a good idea, but it isn't the obvious panacea that you might think. For one thing, we have to face the problem that in many instances a change of this kind is going to be a real bargain for the upper middle class. They'll end up paying far less in increased taxes than they're now paying directly. And their kids are still going to be overwhelmingly overrepresented among those attending the best universities. Chances are, similarly, that for a lot of working class and lower middle class families this will actually increase their overall expenditures; they'll be paying more in taxes than they do under the current system and there's no way to offset that by income based tuition waivers (which, in the current system, are widely available to students from disadvantaged backgrounds).

And, finally, there's the problem that the cost of higher education is likely to continue to rise above the rate of inflation. I know people like to imagine that you could dramatically slash the budget for most university systems without harming anything but the quality of the caviar that faculty bathe in before their nightly $100 bill bonfire parties, but the fact is that universities are simply inherently expensive operations. They require large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees whose jobs, by and large, cannot be replaced with automation. The cost of highly educated and highly trained labor has been rising dramatically throughout the C20th--that's the reason that everyone wants a university education, in order to qualify for those high-paying jobs. Those economic forces aren't going to change simply because you're changing who is footing the bills.
posted by yoink at 8:22 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


but it is. everyone with a college degree loves the idea of free higher ed, how many of them love the idea of paying doctors closer to what janitors make?

I do, for one. Physician pay increasing faster than inflation (particularly for specialists) is a significant contributor to rising healthcare costs, and on average (but again especially for specialists) the US pays physicians much more than other rich countries do.

I don't know how it relates to income-based repayment, but take a look at roughly every single thread on Metafilter ever related to student debt. It's 'let's all worship at the alter of STEM [whatever that turns out to be], sod all else'.

For an individual student, pursuing a degree (and career) in a STEM field is one way to reduce the risk of an excessively high debt:income ratio. There are other ways, including only attending a school if you can get a significant scholarship or attending a less-expensive public school, but those all focus on reducing the debt side of the ratio. For increasing the income side, STEM is one of the few options that is open to many people (as opposed to highly constrained fields like medicine or highly risky fields like law).

It's all well and good to discuss a radical restructuring of the way higher education is funded in the US, but that doesn't do much for people entering or attending college today.
posted by jedicus at 8:23 AM on December 18, 2012


Raise the academic barriers a little and lower the economic ones, instead of the reverse. It's like this country has intentionally made all the wrong decisions.

But that just reinforces inequalities of education at the lower levels. So many lower class kids never realize what an education meant until they "accidentally" found themselves in college.


If you have to start reducing undergraduate enrollments, better to target a metric that can be influenced by merit -- test scores or grades, for example -- than one which cannot -- family income, in this case.
posted by deathpanels at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


in continental europe, where tuition is still relatively cheap, entry into university is tightly controlled. in germany, say, you basically know whether you will go to uni or not by the equivalent of the US 6th grade. and this decision is made for you by your teachers and is by no means free of social prejudice. higher ed may be free but the class of people who are allowed to attend is quite small by US standards.

Any system that attempts to measure ability and restrict access based on that will be gamed by the bourgeoisie, that's true with the Dutch CITO test as it was with the English 11+. I think though, that the modern Dutch system is superior because no single test is the last word, as long as you do well in the level that you're streamed into (all of which are well funded - unlike non-grammar school secondary education in the old English system) you can go up a level.

It's certainly true that the educational streaming in The Netherlands and Germany (which are the two countries that I'm personally familiar with) is hardly free of class and other bias, but in .nl at least there are options at every level to "stream-up". Sure, people from higher social classes are most likely to use those opportunities as well, but at some point there are limits to what government intervention can accomplish.

So if you find yourself at 17 in the 2nd highest stream, the one that leads to tertiary professional education (business, accountancy, polytechnics, etc) and decide you want to go to university instead, you're hardly out of luck. If you get good grades in your first year of polytechnic you can transfer into a university and many people do.

Even if you get sorted into the lowest Dutch secondary stream, the VMBO, you could potentially still start university at 19 or 20, only a few years after people who got sorted into the highest stream.

I think that imperfect as these systems are, it's much fairer than ending up in horrendous debt unless your parents are wealthy. It also means that Germany doesn't have a huge glut of graduates that don't have graduate jobs to go to. (Of course things are less good in countries like Spain, but the Spanish job market is horrible for everyone at the moment).
posted by atrazine at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2012 [7 favorites]


STEM = science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for the others who didn't know.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:29 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


For one thing, we have to face the problem that in many instances a change of this kind is going to be a real bargain for the upper middle class. They'll end up paying far less in increased taxes than they're now paying directly. ... Chances are, similarly, that for a lot of working class and lower middle class families this will actually increase their overall expenditures; they'll be paying more in taxes than they do under the current system

Why must this be so? As long as we're dreaming (and that's what this is, in the current political climate), why can't this tax-funded higher education be funded by a highly-progressive tax that starts at the upper middle class level?

And, finally, there's the problem that the cost of higher education is likely to continue to rise above the rate of inflation. ... Those economic forces aren't going to change simply because you're changing who is footing the bills.

If the government foots the bill then it can peg tuition increases to inflation. But moreover, a huge percentage of the increase in college costs over the past 30 years has not been from "large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees" but rather from enormous growth in college administration and spending on new buildings, dorms, sports programs, etc. There is lots of room for controlling and even reducing college costs without harming the teaching and research staff.
posted by jedicus at 8:31 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


And, finally, there's the problem that the cost of higher education is likely to continue to rise above the rate of inflation. I know people like to imagine that you could dramatically slash the budget for most university systems without harming anything but the quality of the caviar that faculty bathe in before their nightly $100 bill bonfire parties, but the fact is that universities are simply inherently expensive operations. They require large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees whose jobs, by and large, cannot be replaced with automation. The cost of highly educated and highly trained labor has been rising dramatically throughout the C20th--that's the reason that everyone wants a university education, in order to qualify for those high-paying jobs. Those economic forces aren't going to change simply because you're changing who is footing the bills.

Single-payer and other universal healthcare systems seem to be much better at controlling healthcare costs than America's free(ish) market system. Medical systems face similar problems with automation coupled with near-universal demand. Why shouldn't it be possible to control education costs through the same mechanism--rationing?

This is what most other countries, with healthier higher education systems, do. Positive and important progressive goals such as ending generational poverty do not need to be coupled with a goal of putting every student into a liberal arts college.
posted by jsturgill at 8:32 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Etrigan: questioning a point of view is not at all the same as saying someone is a horrible person. Also, please review what you initially wrote and please note how trollish it reads, whether you intended it that way or not.

"pillars of the Reagan revolution" LOL
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:33 AM on December 18, 2012


>But that just reinforces inequalities of education at the lower levels. So many lower class kids never realize what an education meant until they "accidentally" found themselves in college.

If you have to start reducing undergraduate enrollments, better to target a metric that can be influenced by merit -- test scores or grades, for example -- than one which cannot -- family income, in this case.

The problem is that, test scores do not necessarily indicate some absolute "merit," since succeeding on tests often hinges on things like access to educational resources, a stable home life, a social safety net that isn't always under attack, and so on, all traits which are more abundant as you move up the class ladder. Under this system, if you can't get into a good grade school, you can't get into a good high school, which means your chance of getting into a decent college is very slim; where is the merit then?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:37 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article is a little weird. Every year you pay interest on your loans, you get that as a tax deduction, too, so it's not like it doesn't help ease your tax burden before it's paid off. Not that I don't want to pay off my IBR debt sooner than the 25 year deadline, given the chance, but still.

As for free higher education, it works for most countries in Europe. Why not?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:38 AM on December 18, 2012


To expand on that merit point above -- I see a lot of Freshmen who are academically unprepared for college. My institution has a very successful program to help students from the weakest high schools transition. I work really closely with this office when I have a student in the program, because it often makes a huge difference in that student's success. The process is, however, very labor intensive, partly because a lot of these students have not just received weak educations -- their educational development has been all but sabotaged continually since they were very young. With that in mind, the "merit metric" seems to be a path to solidify the class (and especially race-based class) issues that already plague our society.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:42 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


They require large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees whose jobs, by and large, cannot be replaced with automation. The cost of highly educated and highly trained labor has been rising dramatically throughout the C20th--that's the reason that everyone wants a university education, in order to qualify for those high-paying jobs.

More precisely, the cost of educated labour has gone up relative to the cost of manufactured goods, food, and wage levels. Even if wage levels keep pace with food and other essentials, the cost of anything that requires a lot educated labour seems to get anomously high and keeps increasing.
posted by atrazine at 8:45 AM on December 18, 2012


The process is, however, very labor intensive, partly because a lot of these students have not just received weak educations -- their educational development has been all but sabotaged continually since they were very young. With that in mind, the "merit metric" seems to be a path to solidify the class (and especially race-based class) issues that already plague our society.

Only if you believe that intervention must be delayed until the freshman year in college.

Absence from a broken home might in fact be a powerful uplifting force for these freshmen... maybe intervention at that moment is more effective than intervening earlier in their childhood.

But I suspect there is actual data about that somewhere that can guide the decision in a meaningful manner. My initial thinking is that earlier intervention is likely more successful overall than delayed intervention.
posted by jsturgill at 8:46 AM on December 18, 2012


Every year you pay interest on your loans, you get that as a tax deduction, too, so it's not like it doesn't help ease your tax burden before it's paid off.

Only up to $2500 in interest. People on IBR have, by definition, a lot of debt. Even if their payments are so reduced that they don't even cover the interest, it's still possible to exceed $2500 in interest every year while on IBR.

And it's possible to qualify for IBR but make too much money to qualify for the student loan interest deduction at all, which phases out between $60k and $75k in modified adjusted gross income. In fact, this can all be true while paying so little via IBR that it doesn't even cover the interest, leading to an ever-increasing debt.

This is the situation that a lot of law school graduates find themselves in. Most either make too little to reach the phase-out or too much to qualify for IBR, but there is a non-trivial percentage in the middle.
posted by jedicus at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2012 [6 favorites]


Why must this be so? As long as we're dreaming (and that's what this is, in the current political climate), why can't this tax-funded higher education be funded by a highly-progressive tax that starts at the upper middle class level?

Yes, certainly. After Reagan's disastrous first (and only) term in office. President Mondale carried out just this program in response to the crisis in US manufacturing employment.

You are ignoring 30 years of goring on "tax issues" in american politics. I think the verdict is decisive against middle class tax increases, and that ultimately is what pays for a social welfare system (of which education is just a part.)

Playing games with "upper middle" vs. "middle" doesn't change anything.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:49 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why shouldn't it be possible to control education costs through the same mechanism--rationing?

Rationing would probably work very well to control education costs. I don't think you'll find it an easy sell to the US populace, however. As others have noted, European countries have tended to ration higher education by tracking students very early into "academic" and "nonacademic" streams. As you can imagine, that has a strong tendency to simply reinforce class-based structures of privilege (France is a very good example here where you have a virtual class oligarchy marching its way through the Sciences Po to go on and run the country).

And while it is true that other countries have managed to do better than the US at controlling healthcare and education costs, it is not the case that they have managed to make this an easy and unproblematic thing to do. Education continues to grow as a share of the budget and states find themselves faced with unpalatable choices--either to increase the tax burden, to push costs onto the students or to further restrict access.
posted by yoink at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You are ignoring 30 years of goring on "tax issues" in american politics.

Hence why I said "as long as we're dreaming." I submit that by the time America is ready for single-payer education, we'll be ready for a much more strongly progressive tax system.
posted by jedicus at 8:51 AM on December 18, 2012


But that just reinforces inequalities of education at the lower levels. So many lower class kids never realize what an education meant until they "accidentally" found themselves in college.

And I recognize that, so perhaps there could be an intermediary step, sort of like AA degrees are like, or just stricter grading with an increased cut rate. Easy to get in/hard to stay in perhaps?

Or

Public education extends to 21. At 18 you can graduate from HS normally and enter a civil service program, or stay for 2-3 years for a technical skills degree. At 21 (slightly more mature than 18), you can enter the college system. Everyone gets a year to prove their chops.

I don't know... and it is all pie in the sky anyways. nothing gets fixed until it burns to the ground around here.
College education nowadays seems to be more about delaying entering "the real world" (yeah I hate that term too) then actual education. And given many student end up working 20/30/40 hours on top of going to school full time, when realistically their JOB should be getting educated. It's an insane system.
posted by edgeways at 8:53 AM on December 18, 2012


*Shrugs* I don't think that Etrigan's point was even remotely outrageous.

If we're going to implement this kind of system (and we should do something, even if this particular proposal might not be the answer), we're also going to need to rethink higher education in America, because our current perception/utilization of the education system is fundamentally incompatible with cheap/free tuition.

Right now, most Americans and many employers look at a bachelor's degree as a status symbol and qualifying test. There are many, many jobs that unnecessarily require a college degree, and unfairly discriminate against those without one (good luck even getting an interview, even if you're qualified).

We even stigmatize and discriminate against anybody who does not go through the "traditional" academic track. This has always struck me as being especially egregious, and I seriously wish that I'd had some time between High School and College to better formulate ideas about what I wanted to do with my life.

Much of our education system and white-collar employment practices are built around this notion. It should not be outrageous to point out that heavily-subsidized tuition (and moreover, the goals that you're trying to achieve by providing heavily-subsidized tuition) cannot be accomplished without many other changes.

As a workforce development tool, American universities seem to be failing in a pretty profound way. Undergraduate degrees are usually not perceived as a reliable source of job skills. Even with sky-high unemployment, employers constantly complain about a lack of qualified candidates. (High education costs are also preventing people from going back to school to change careers -- I'd be in grad school right now if it weren't for my worthless DC residency)

If we make undergraduate degrees cheap, the demand will simply move to graduate degrees, and those will be the new status symbol. As it is, we seem to be overeducating ourselves with redundant or wrong sets of skills.

To get costs down, education just needs to stop being a status symbol. I don't have any good solutions to this problem -- as others pointed out above, rationing is attractive, but can also be used to enforce social hierarchy and decrease economic mobility.
posted by schmod at 8:55 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Only if you believe that intervention must be delayed until the freshman year in college.

Well... yes. But the costs of that, if applied across the US, would likely dwarf the costs of making college low-cost. Besides, you would have to fight against the political currents that are totally happy with racism and keeping the poor poor.

Even if wage levels keep pace with food and other essentials, the cost of anything that requires a lot educated labour seems to get anomously high and keeps increasing.

Another problem is the amount of state and federal oversight of universities. While this does arguably protect students from a variety of abuses, each layer requires more and more administration (on both sides), and administrators make at least as much, and often more than, faculty....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:55 AM on December 18, 2012


Hence why I said "as long as we're dreaming." I submit that by the time America is ready for single-payer education, we'll be ready for a much more strongly progressive tax system.

And I recognize that, so perhaps there could be an intermediary step, sort of like AA degrees are like, or just stricter grading with an increased cut rate. Easy to get in/hard to stay in perhaps?

The problem is that you are trying to avoid larger political problems by focusing on small policy decisions which you imagine no one would object to: free college tuition, high taxes for the rich! It's very much the politics of the left side of the Democratic party.

If you are going to dream, why not dream bigger than that? What kind of society do you actually want to live in, The one we do live in is very much based on reaching for the "golden ticket." Do you imagine that a society with higher taxes and free higher ed would also be one where you can become a multimillionaire by programming an "app" that lets people share photos with canned filters with each other?

The billion dollars Facebook payed for Instagram is very much money that could have been invested in free education or high tech manufacturing, or even low tech manufacturing. Really, anything would probably return more to our society than what it was spent on.

But do you actually want to work in a factory or a farm, or deliver the mail, or would you rather sit around hoping your next piece of code will be the one?
posted by ennui.bz at 9:04 AM on December 18, 2012


Only up to $2500 in interest. People on IBR have, by definition, a lot of debt. Even if their payments are so reduced that they don't even cover the interest, it's still possible to exceed $2500 in interest every year while on IBR.

And it's possible to qualify for IBR but make too much money to qualify for the student loan interest deduction at all, which phases out between $60k and $75k in modified adjusted gross income. In fact, this can all be true while paying so little via IBR that it doesn't even cover the interest, leading to an ever-increasing debt.

This is the situation that a lot of law school graduates find themselves in. Most either make too little to reach the phase-out or too much to qualify for IBR, but there is a non-trivial percentage in the middle.


HOORAY! For once the thread is actually all about me!

Seriously, though, my 10 year repayment plan payments would be about $1500 on IBR I pay $600, so I'm obviously not even paying the interest. I have a huge tax bill coming for me, it's true, but right now I don't feel like I really have a choice, so I'm paying the IBR and hoping.

There's not much else to do.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


but it is. everyone with a college degree loves the idea of free higher ed, how many of them love the idea of paying doctors closer to what janitors make?

I do.
posted by jb at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2012


Only, I would also pay janitors a living wage.
posted by jb at 9:11 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's still the barrier that you have to be smart enough and hard-working enough to do the coursework and pass the tests.

There are way too many colleges where this barrier is laughably low.

If we got to a point where all high-schools were roughly equivalent, it was more difficult to get into college and to earn a degree, and colleges actually held students up to the standards they put down on paper, then I think government paid college would be a wonderful idea.

In theory, income levels would up enough that we wouldn't need to raise taxes all that much, more Americans would be more educated (and colleges could go back to educating people instead of just training them for a job) so we'd hopefully elect better representatives, and business would have an easier time hiring people since they know that people actually need to know what they are doing to earn a bachelor's degree.

We'd probably need to come up with some job training programs for those not college-bound while we're at it.
posted by VTX at 9:12 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Free college education is probably the best solution to rapidly rising college costs.
There's definitely an argument being made here for free Microeconomics education. We should probably teach kids about the distinctions between prices and costs; supply and demand curves and elasticities; tax and subsidy incidence; etc. before they get old enough to vote.
posted by roystgnr at 9:12 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


But moreover, a huge percentage of the increase in college costs over the past 30 years has not been from "large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees" but rather from enormous growth in college administration and spending on new buildings, dorms, sports programs, etc. There is lots of room for controlling and even reducing college costs without harming the teaching and research staff.

I just want to point out that I don't find that Goldwater Institute study particularly convincing. It only discusses the size of college adminstrations as rates but tuition in dollars and never actually makes a connection from one to the other beyond both having gone up. There are obviously more people working in college administration than there used to be, and I have no doubt there is some amount of bloat, but the salaries of even 100 extra administrators aren't going to add up to anything close to the amount tuition has gone up.

The main reason tuition is continually increasing in the US is exactly what your link recommends -- state and federal subsidies for higher education have plummeted over the last 40 years or so. Right now, some states are paying less in absolute terms, not just as a percentage of GDP, for education than they were 10 years ago, since when both the total number of students and the budgets of those states have gone up. That's where the tuition money has gone, into making up that massive shortfall, much more than the salaries of a handful of VPs of Fund Raising.
posted by Copronymus at 9:13 AM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


I actually stated this (probably terrible, since I have zero public policy experience) idea in another thread but given that we know SES and academic performance correlate really strongly and want to mitigate this in higher ed, one approach would be for state schools to admit the top x% of applicants within each of several income brackets. A side effect would be that the university itself could subsidize the tuition of the lowest-income admits with the full tuition paid by the highest-income applicants. And you would end up with a student population that actually reflected the economic distribution of the country they live in. Obviously imperfect, but might be one route forward.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2012


Only up to $2500 in interest. People on IBR have, by definition, a lot of debt. Even if their payments are so reduced that they don't even cover the interest, it's still possible to exceed $2500 in interest every year while on IBR.

$2500 x 25 years > the $10k tax burden the article cites, though.

I don't know. I find the article weird. IBR is great. It enables me to eat! Also contrary to the article, the IRS does too have payment plans.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have? -Etrigan

Jeez, that's one seriously fucked up point of view. I'd hope graduation should be meaningful. Yes, bachelors degrees are mean less these days, partially because people must know more, but mostly because we've started inflating grades. So I ask you why are we inflating grades?

I'll ask that question another clearer way : Who is the customer in education? You say the student right? Wrong, society is the customer, the student is the product. Yet, if you make the students pay, then you turn the students into the customer. As the student is now simply buying their degree, grade inflation begins in ernest. All selection gets passed down to high school grades, which already inflated by virtue of parents being the customers.

I've taught university classes in the U.S., England, Germany, and Turkey, and spent at least a year as a non-teaching postdoc in both Scotland and France. There were expected minimum percentages of failing grades for senior level classes in Turkey, France, and Germany, passing too many looked suspect or got you yelled at. I believe this applied only to freshman and sophomore classes at Rutgers, but certainly seniors could fail if they tried. At expensive U.S. schools like Stanford, you aren't allowed to fail hardly any seniors.

At Georgia Tech, I witnessed classmates fail out junior and senior year. In fact, my entering year saw less than 24% graduate within 4 years and only 41% graduate within 7 years, that's selection.

In Scotland, St Andrews brags about a 98% completion rate. Yeah, they'll claim it's all by being selective, but that's pure bullshit. At 98%, your admissions completely outweighs all the actual grades the students achieve while there. I'm sorry but admissions simply cannot know that much.

Also, their students aren't nearly as good as my cohort at Georgia Tech, who were "selected" almost entirely by fear of that 24% graduation rate. Even now MIT with their incredible selectivity has only a 90% completion rate.

It's entirely about whether you view society or the student as the customer. Your statement is fucked up because it so clearly views the student as the sole customer.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:20 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


If there are zero barriers to college save opportunity costs, how much worth will a bachelor's degree have? We're already at a place where people are all but forced to get master's degrees to be competitive, as the woman in the picture atop the linked article was -- how will free college do anything but increase the number of people who need to assume graduate-school debt?

Education has - wait for it - intrinsic value.
posted by phrontist at 9:25 AM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Look at the parts I quoted in addition to what I said. The person I was responding to was proposing nothing more than free college for everyone, which would do massive damage to both selectivity and the intrinsic value of education. In the absence of other changes to the American educational system (and American culture as a whole), letting everyone go to college for free will not make things better, because (again) in the absence of other changes, the only effect of free college for everyone will be to depress the value of that education, not only to the student but to society.
posted by Etrigan at 9:32 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The billion dollars Facebook payed for Instagram is very much money that could have been invested in free education or high tech manufacturing, or even low tech manufacturing. Really, anything would probably return more to our society than what it was spent on.

But that money wouldn't have existed if Facebook hadn't made it by providing similarly frivolous services as is illustrated nicely by the fact that the deal was actually 600 something million in the end because of the drop in the value of FB stock.
posted by atrazine at 9:33 AM on December 18, 2012


$2500 x 25 years > the $10k tax burden the article cites, though.

The $2500 is a tax deduction. Someone with a typical income is going to be paying an effective federal tax rate of about 25%. So that $2500 deduction saves them $625 in taxes. Over 25 years that's $15,625. Still more than $10,000, but a lot closer.

But that's assuming a fairly low $10,000 tax bill. A lot of people on IBR (like many law school graduates) will see six figure tax bills at the end of the program, thanks to capitalized interest. And many of those people won't ever have been able to use the student loan interest deduction or will have only been able to use part of it because of the phase-out. So for a lot of people the student loan interest deduction does not offset the possible tax consequences of loan forgiveness.

I like IBR, too. It has greatly reduced my student loan payments (though I wish renewing it were a simpler and more transparent process). But I operate on the assumption that, once large-scale loan forgiveness is imminent, something will be done about the income tax issue. You can't squeeze blood from a turnip, and if people had the extra cash to save for paying the income tax then they probably wouldn't need IBR in the first place.
posted by jedicus at 9:37 AM on December 18, 2012


the fact is that a high school diploma used to be an all-but-guarantee that you'd get a job.

Just because a HS diploma isn't a ticket to work now, does not mean that it's because of arbitrary required-degree inflation.

In the 1950s, you might go to a high school next to a spring making factory. In school, you could take a class on how to operate the spring making machines. When you graduated, you could walk across the street and work at the spring factory. And you might be able to afford to buy a home, too.

Oh, and women weren't in the work force to the extent they are now.

This was true for a few decades after the Great Depression and WWII, when: a) the US invested heavily in infrastructure, so there were lots of jobs and strong support for industry b) the US was the premier manufacturing center of the planet, and c) exported to Europe and Asia like nobody's business.

These things are not true now. You have men and women in the workforce. You have an enormous decline in manufacturing.

And ... jobs that require only an ability to do repetitive tasks on an assembly line are fewer and pay less.
posted by zippy at 9:39 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


(women in the work force was about the amount of competition for existing jobs. Easier to get work in the 1950s when you have only about half the population seeking employment)
posted by zippy at 9:41 AM on December 18, 2012


the value of the uni degree is artificially high because the pool of people with higher degrees is artificially low.

This is bullshit because non-economic constraints are not necessarily "artificial". Restricting university admissions based on, you know, whether a person has developed the habits of thinking needed to benefit from going to university is not "keeping the pool artificially low". Opening the system up to anyone willing to pay is keeping it artificially large.

Even at the comparatively competitive university where I teach, perhaps 60% of the students I've encountered lack the preparation to be there, to the extent that either their degree will be farcical, or we'd have to change the curriculum so that they can pass were we to grade them honestly. (Grading here is kind of a metaphor, since grades are largely about companies externalizing their hiring costs by forcing universities to do something that isn't really part of their educational mission, namely deciding who did well and who didn't.)

(These students are largely from either well-funded public schools in relatively affluent areas, or from private schools, and many still can't read in any meaningful sense or write coherently, and I teach juniors, mostly.)

Education is simply not a commodity that can be purchased or a service that can be paid for. When education is treated as a commodity, or a commercial service, or whatever, it ceases to exist. If the economy is structured in such a way that employment often requires a university degree, then, since everyone needs employment, the forces that make education into not-really-education are going to kick in.

University needs to be for folks with the interest and the grit and, to some extent, preparation, to actually work on stuff. I have plenty of experience with universities in places where university is free, or nearly so, and the forces that work against actual education are, anecdatally, much less powerful, and the students on average slightly but noticeably better-prepared, more engaged, and less distracted by obsession with the notion that they are customers. (My students know off the top of their heads how much each of my lectures costs them, although they're surprised to find that that figure doesn't translate into anything remotely like my "hourly rate"...)

(The other missing piece is: if the quality of primary and secondary education is tied to affluence, as it is in the US because of the reliance on property taxes to fund schools, then universities will remain elitist in the wrong, socioeconomic, way. Education at all levels has the potential to be, and has in the recentish past served as, a social equalizer*, but it is at all levels the exact opposite in the US presently. This seems counterproductive, even ignoring the social justice point of view, since there are plenty of people who are not given good educational opportunities but are innately much more "educable" than people whose parents can pay to live in places with "good" public schools and send their kids to university. You'd think that, in a "knowledge economy", a "pro-business" government would be combing disadvantaged areas looking for academically talented kids to hand opportunities. Of course, the corporate state isn't really "pro-business"; it's pro-folks-who-already-are-rich-from-past-business.)

*My grandfather walks funny from childhood malnutrition but had a securely middle-class adulthood because of a GI bill-funded education, for example.

Derail apologies.
posted by kengraham at 9:44 AM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


the fact is that a high school diploma used to be an all-but-guarantee that you'd get a job.

Just because a HS diploma isn't a ticket to work now, does not mean that it's because of arbitrary required-degree inflation.

In the 1950s, you might go to a high school next to a spring making factory. In school, you could take a class on how to operate the spring making machines. When you graduated, you could walk across the street and work at the spring factory. And you might be able to afford to buy a home, too.


You didn't need the diploma to do that, though. You would need it to get onto the management track (with a little night school), while today, no dropout is going to get that skilled-labor position, and you'd need to be working on your MBA to be considered for the management track. The secretary who took your application back then probably had a high school diploma -- today, she has a bachelor's degree and is working on her PHR cert, if not a master's.

You're right -- required-degree inflation isn't the only reason a HS diploma isn't a ticket to the middle class anymore. But it's certainly one of the reasons.
posted by Etrigan at 9:53 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


hoyland : I don't know how it relates to income-based repayment, but take a look at roughly every single thread on Metafilter ever related to student debt. It's 'let's all worship at the alter of STEM [whatever that turns out to be], sod all else'.

It relates because DU misunderstood who would end up getting stiffed by the amount that remains unpaid after 25 years. He assumed the colleges would, when actually, we all would, since the federal government backs these loans.

So let's take it a bit more charitable, and assume DU meant that a few years down the road, the government will need to find a way of compelling universities to increase their job placement rates after graduation. How do they do that? Simple: They focus on STEM.

Now... You would, presumably without sarcasm, ask why these discussions always end up as "let's all worship at the alter of STEM"?

Because when you graduate with an English degree, you qualify to flip burgers. When you graduate with any degree containing "engineer" in the name, you have the job offers lined up midway through your senior year.


phrontist :Education has - wait for it - intrinsic value.

Then why shouldn't people need to pay to receive that value, regardless of whether or not they can get a job with their degree in Inuit Studies?
posted by pla at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to me that more attention is not paid to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (PSLF), which forgives Direct Loan balances after just 10 years, and that forgiveness is not taxable income:

Q: Are loan amounts forgiven under PSLF considered taxable by the IRS?
A: No. According to the IRS, student loan amounts forgiven under PSLF are not considered income
for tax purposes.


The only catch is you have to find work in the public or voluntary(non-profit) sector, but that describes millions of jobs.
posted by 2ghouls at 10:03 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because when you graduate with an English degree, you qualify to flip burgers. When you graduate with any degree containing "engineer" in the name, you have the job offers lined up midway through your senior year.

Literary engineering? Surely someone can be creative enough to rebrand the field.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:10 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


So let's take it a bit more charitable, and assume DU meant that a few years down the road, the government will need to find a way of compelling universities to increase their job placement rates after graduation. How do they do that? Simple: They focus on STEM.

Now wait a minute. Are you suggesting that, if all the students at my institution converted to STEM disciplines, they would all automatically get jobs upon graduation? I am not sure things work that way. Wasn't getting a law degree supposed to be the inside track to a big pay check not too long ago?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:16 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


But moreover, a huge percentage of the increase in college costs over the past 30 years has not been from "large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees" but rather from enormous growth in college administration and spending on new buildings, dorms, sports programs, etc. There is lots of room for controlling and even reducing college costs without harming the teaching and research staff.

This simply isn't the case and it gets so utterly tiring hearing this ridiculous canard repeated over and over again. Yes, college presidents get paid silly money. But that's simply not a meaningful portion of the total university budget. Cutting administrator salaries just isn't a meaningful road to solving the US's education cost problems. Nor, come to that, is slashing investment in buildings or dorms or even sports teams. Universities with large sports programs are not noticeably worse off, financially, than universities without them. Universities that have been heavily investing in infrastructure, similarly, are not noticeably--as a class--worse off than those that have not. These things are sideshows that people get excited about because they're nice and visible ("OMG, did you see what President XYZ is earning!!" "OMG, have you seen the fancy dorm rooms at State U?" "OMG, look at that fancy shmancy new building they just put up!!!" etc.), but they're hilariously irrelevant to the actual budget burdens that universities face--which are overwhelmingly the cost of faculty salaries.

Take the UC system, for example, which I happen to know well. Senior management salaries amount to less than 1% of the UC budget's core expenditures. Academic salaries represents 30%. Student financial aid represents 14% (yes, basically half what is spent on total academic salaries). Staff salaries represent 23%. Retirement benefits to former staff and faculty 14%. Equipment, utilities, building maintenance etc. 18%. That's not "new buildings" by the way--that's just keeping the buildings we have lit, heated, cooled, maintained, cleaned etc. etc. New buildings tend to be funded by bonds or, in the case of athletics buildings, out of revenue generated by the athletics programs or, in the case of medical buildings, out of revenue generated by the schools of medicine, or, in the case of parking buildings etc. out of revenue generated by parking fees.

So, in other words, everything you think represents a "huge percentage of the increase in college costs" is basically irrelevant to the institution's budget. The only meaningful cost compression is to slash salaries for academics and ordinary support staff. Now, many here seem to think that that would be great. Although it's odd to bracket that with threads about the jobs crisis and the frequently expressed anger in those threads from recent college grads that there are no high-paying jobs available commensurate with the expensive education they just received. Slashing the compensation for high-education jobs would seem to be an unlikely proposal to win wide favor among the Metafilter crowd, given its general demographic.
posted by yoink at 10:24 AM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


jedicus: "If the government foots the bill then it can peg tuition increases to inflation. But moreover, a huge percentage of the increase in college costs over the past 30 years has not been from "large numbers of highly educated and highly trained employees" but rather from enormous growth in college administration and spending on new buildings, dorms, sports programs, etc. There is lots of room for controlling and even reducing college costs without harming the teaching and research staff."

No, no it hasn't. The costs of college have remained relatively steady compared to inflation. Tuition increases follow the obvious decline in state funding of state schools.
posted by pwnguin at 10:25 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


As noted above:

IBR is great. It enables me to eat!

Coupled with loan forgiveness, IBR allows me to put my very expensive legal education to work in the public sector. The educational institution from which I graduated has a "loan repayment assistance program" for graduates working in the public interest but the rules for qualifying are burdensome. if, at any point after graduation you held a non public interest job, or one which did not require a law degree, basically, you're screwed. It's a great way to support your graduates in their attempt to live up to the school's philosophy about social justice.

As for loan forgiveness, you not only have to have the right job, you have to have the right loan. I found this out by accident; had to refinance my loans to qualify and lost several years of payment credits. And required number of payments resets if--for instance--you move out of a qualifying job. It's shockingly easy to lose your repayment credits, as you have to make all the payments in a row without missing or skipping a payment or spending any time at all out of qualifying full-time employment.

And good luck hiring an accountant who can help you with it, if you're married and have to consider how to file your taxes or structure your finances. We've been rejected by what feels like a million accountants in the last six months.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2012


Literary engineering? Surely someone can be creative enough to rebrand the field.

They did: Digital Humanities.
posted by wenat at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2012


GenjiandProust Now wait a minute. Are you suggesting that, if all the students at my institution converted to STEM disciplines, they would all automatically get jobs upon graduation?

Great question, and I honestly don't know the answer to it - A lot of the demand for STEM graduates comes directly from the fact that we don't currently have enough of them (which itself comes from the "hardness" of many of the basic skills involved).

In practice, STEM looks relatively self-sustaining, in the sense that having more such people in the workforce creates more demand for them rather than merely filling existing demand; Most likely, I suspect that effect would level off at some point.


I am not sure things work that way. Wasn't getting a law degree supposed to be the inside track to a big pay check not too long ago?

Again, great counterexample. And I fully accept that such as thing as "too many engineers" might exist. For the present, however, parents and teachers could do a lot worse than strongly encouraging 16-18YOs to consider a career in STEM.


FWIW - And I usually lead with this disclaimer in threads like this one but forgot this time - I do have a liberal arts degree, and very much value its contribution to my ability to "think outside the box". But I use that in the sense of adding spice to the soup of my "real" degree - No one wants to sit down and eat a bowl of paprika.
posted by pla at 10:35 AM on December 18, 2012


I submit that by the time America is ready for single-payer education, we'll be ready for a much more strongly progressive tax system.

I submit that there will be a second civil war, and America will no longer exist as currently constituted before single-payer anything becomes a reality.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2012


Because when you graduate with an English degree, you qualify to flip burgers. When you graduate with any degree containing "engineer" in the name, you have the job offers lined up midway through your senior year.

This might be true for engineering majors - but not so for basic sciences or maths (how many recruiters are looking for people with a B.Sc. in biology?)

Also, this was some time ago, but I remember that the University of Toronto reported in about 2000 that their B.A.s were more likely to be employed x months after graduation than people with the Bachelor of Engineering - I think the major with the best job prospects at the time was philosophy.
posted by jb at 10:41 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Probably the right way to think about allocating people to degree fields is by the output of their work. More lawyers means more contracts, different contracts, and probably more lawsuits. More engineers means more things, different things, and probably more patents. I'm okay with that.
posted by pwnguin at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, no it hasn't. The costs of college have remained relatively steady compared to inflation. Tuition increases follow the obvious decline in state funding of state schools.

And what explains the tuition increases at private schools?

Yes, college presidents get paid silly money. But that's simply not a meaningful portion of the total university budget. Cutting administrator salaries just isn't a meaningful road to solving the US's education cost problems.

The issue isn't (just) senior administration. It's primarily middle administration:
Between 1975 and 2005 ... the faculty-to-student ratio [at American higher educational institutions] has remained fairly constant, at approximately 15 or 16 students per instructor. ... In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every 84 students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every 50 students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every 68 students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every 21 students.

...

Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. ... Today, administrators and staffers safely outnumber full-time faculty members on campus.

...

[B]etween 1947 and 1995 (the last year for which the relevant data was published), administrative costs increased from barely 9 percent to nearly 15 percent of college and university budgets. More recent data, though not strictly comparable, follows a similar pattern. During this same time period, stated in constant dollars, overall university spending increased 148 percent. Instructional spending increased only 128 percent, 20 points less than the overall rate of spending increase. Administrative spending, though, increased by a whopping 235 percent.
Those administrators and staffers may, on average, be paid less than faculty, but reversing those trends would reduce costs significantly. At UC, as you point out, senior management and staff combined account for almost as much cost as faculty. And if administration and staff headcount and pay are reduced, then retirement benefit costs go down as well.

New buildings tend to be funded by bonds or, in the case of athletics buildings, out of revenue generated by the athletics programs

Where does the money come from to repay those bonds? And most athletics programs at most schools lose money, even at many large schools.
posted by jedicus at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


More lawyers means more contracts, different contracts, and probably more lawsuits.

Eh, based on the past forty years of grossly overproducing lawyers in this country, more lawyers mostly just seems to mean more unemployed lawyers.
posted by jedicus at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, the idea that "graduating with a degree in English [or substitute your favorite liberal arts major here] qualifies you for flipping burgers" pisses me right off. Because, you know what, if you actually study your liberal arts topic in a well-designed curriculum, you learn some quantifiable, meaningful skills that have utility beyond listing your favorite 19th century parlor story.

Critical thinking; meta-textual analysis; the ability to identify, modify or disregard the frame of a debate; explaining complex arguments, problems, or interlocking concerns to broad audiences in simplified but still meaningful terms; the discipline to read, research, and synthesize a topic that doesn't really interest you--these are all meaningful skills that you don't really develop without the guidance of a structured educational environment, such as you get in a well-designed, rigorous liberal arts course of study.

You may well get them in STEM studies--I don't know. But the idea that students don't learn anything (or won't or can't learn anything) pursuing a degree in a non-STEM study is to wholly misunderstand the higher thinking skills college educations are supposed to develop. This skills are applicable to any number of professional jobs, as well as to any number of life's vexing circumstance. Just because you never had a professor who was able to teach these things; just because you knew a bunch of English majors who came out the other side without having worked or learned anything other than who wrote Clarissa, doesn't mean that those departments of study are inherently meaningless.

It might mean that we select students poorly. It might mean that our professors have insufficient pedagogical skills. It might mean that students/professors are lazy or bored or stupid or ill-prepared for study.

It doesn't mean liberal arts education has no value.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:54 AM on December 18, 2012 [15 favorites]


Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. ... Today, administrators and staffers safely outnumber full-time faculty members on campus. (emphasis added)

So in forty years, if you add an entire group of people to one side of the scales, it goes out of balance.

In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every 84 students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every 50 students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every 68 students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every 21 students. (emphasis added)

The "staffers" have tripled, while the "administrators" haven't even doubled. Plus, in 1975, "information technology specialist" was two guys -- one with a doctorate who ran the reel-to-reel computer that took up an entire basement and one who changed the bulbs in the overhead projectors. Nowadays, it's a veritable army of people keeping up the wifi, getting the econ department's computers working again after someone downloaded another virus, updating the admissions office database of everyone who ever applied to the school...

Sorry, but this is some poor cherry-picking of facts and disingenuous interpretation by a professor who should know better.
posted by Etrigan at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because when you graduate with an English degree, you qualify to flip burgers. When you graduate with any degree containing "engineer" in the name, you have the job offers lined up midway through your senior year.

Well, engineering is a closed profession and an engineering degree is vocational in nature. Logically there will be many jobs that are reserved for people with engineering degrees, that doesn't mean there aren't jobs for people with other degrees though. There's also always plenty of jobs for people with accounting degrees, for the same reason.

Second, many people with engineering degrees never work a day in their lives as an engineer, plenty get strategy consulting or i-banking jobs. Jobs that are also available to people with non-STEM degrees although some jobs will require a lot of math.

Third, you say STEM but you're talking about engineers only. There's plenty of physicists, biologists and chemists who aren't entering closed professions. Unless they stay in academia they face the same choices that people with English degrees do. Biology and chemistry graduates, depending on how much math they took may not qualify for those banking jobs any more than an English graduate would.

I work for a consulting company that does actually hire plenty of graduates of all sorts, and we just hired someone with a Classics degree.

In practice, STEM looks relatively self-sustaining, in the sense that having more such people in the workforce creates more demand for them rather than merely filling existing demand; Most likely, I suspect that effect would level off at some point.

For engineers specifically that might be true. Maths degrees though? I think this is a curious position to take even for engineers though. We cannot create an infinite cycle of demand for engineers just by training more and more - those engineers work as part of larger enterprises to design products for the other parts of the economic system.
posted by atrazine at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The only meaningful cost compression is to slash salaries for academics and ordinary support staff.

I think it's important to point out here, though, that the salaries of academics follow a very lopsided distribution. Also, at Berkeley, the biggest earners by far are in the business and law schools (~75% of the top earners). A back of the envelope calculation I did using this data suggests that in the case of Berkeley, taking all professors who make at least $40K/year and paying them all equally at $125K/year would reduce the budget for faculty by close to 30%. (A ~40% savings if you go down to $100K.) Obviously that is sort of extreme, and this is Berkeley, the flagship UC, but I think it makes my point that at least some cost compression for faculty could be achieved without turning them all into adjunct serfs.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:09 AM on December 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


(And on checking, that savings level seems to hold for profs in the UC system in general.)
posted by en forme de poire at 11:11 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It doesn't mean liberal arts education has no value.

I agree that a liberal arts education has an intrinsic value. But the supply of liberal arts graduates far exceeds the job market's demand for them. Ergo, it has next to zero market value. It's a bummer but the only way to actually increase the perceived value of these degrees would be to cap the enrollment of those programs. Unlikely to happen I think.

Also, don't take the Quebec model as some sort of panacea for higher education costs. The Quebec government is going broke faster than anyone and is heavily subsidized by the rest of the country.
posted by GuyZero at 11:16 AM on December 18, 2012


But the supply of liberal arts graduates laborers far exceeds the job market's demand for them.

This isn't intrinsic to Liberal Arts majors, you know.

And, as has been pointed out lots of times in the past, the variable costs to produce each additional Liberal Arts grad are far smaller than the variable cost to produce another STEM grad. At many schools, the Liberal Arts are subsidizing STEM.
posted by gauche at 11:21 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


if you actually study your liberal arts topic in a well-designed curriculum, you learn some quantifiable, meaningful skills that have utility beyond listing your favorite 19th century parlor story.

Critical thinking; meta-textual analysis; the ability to identify, modify or disregard the frame of a debate; explaining complex arguments, problems, or interlocking concerns to broad audiences in simplified but still meaningful terms; the discipline to read, research, and synthesize a topic that doesn't really interest you--these are all meaningful skills that you don't really develop without the guidance of a structured educational environment, such as you get in a well-designed, rigorous liberal arts course of study.

You may well get them in STEM studies--I don't know.


Hi, I just earned a non-engineering degree in the sciences. Like, last week. From classes alone I personally picked up critical thinking; the ability to identify, modify, or disregard the frame of a debate; explaining complex arguments, problems, or interlocking concerns to broad audiences in simplified but still meaningful terms; the discipline to read, research and synthesize a topic that doesn't really interest you; and if I'd done as much original undergraduate research as a lot of my friends were involved in I'd probably be better at every one of these things than most of the english or history majors I know. We aren't just learning to integrate polynomials and memorizing tensile strengths, we're learning to study research in our field, critically analyze possible experimental flaws, and presenting this to peers and laypeople in the context of other recent studies and advancements.

I think the glut of unasked-for graduates in liberal arts fields is a problem, and ideally I'd like to see departments able to regulate how many students they'll take in with an eye towards how many they'll actually be able to ship off to something besides their parents' basement but with how much money those departments could stand to lose and how fast they'd have to fire every non-tenured professor I can hardly blame them for continuing to take students' money.
posted by sandswipe at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2012


STEM degrees don't seem to be that much of an advantage when it comes to unemployment rates. A recent report (PDF) suggests that Health or Education are better bets than Engineering, if you're worried about unemployment. And while the sciences and mathematics & computers have lower unemployment rates than humanities (by a little bit - 7.79 and 8.29% versus 9.4% for recent graduates), they have the same or higher unemployment rates than those who majored in communications and journalism (7.39% - that's surprising, especially for journalism - but it doesn't mean that they are employed in journalism).

For earning potential, STEM degrees show up better, at least in engineering and math & computers. But it seems that someone with a BA in the physical or life sciences may earn more than someone with a humanities BA, but less than someone with a humanities graduate degree and the same as someone with a social sciences degree.
posted by jb at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


At many schools, the Liberal Arts are subsidizing STEM.

This seems like a non-sequitur and without some sort of evidence I'm not sure I agree it's true. Certainly at many Canadian universities the engineering tuition fees are higher than the arts. But I do not have some sort of longitudinal study sitting in front of me here.

This isn't intrinsic to Liberal Arts majors, you know.

Sure, I guess. I'm not sure what to say here. I just think that schools and students alike should consider the demand for graduates when they're looking at their student numbers.

the variable costs to produce each additional Liberal Arts grad are far smaller than the variable cost to produce another STEM grad.

This is a downright terrible point. Who cares how cheap it is to produce a graduate in an overpopulated field? I don't think the solution to excessive education debt is to get more people to enroll in cheaper programs. That seems to debase the notion of education.
posted by GuyZero at 11:51 AM on December 18, 2012


I don't have numbers on this, but I wonder what the respective unemployment rates would be for people with humanities BAs with a 3.5 average, and people with STEM degrees and a 2.0 average?

I wonder, because when I volunteered as a student representative at my university, we'd see petitions from people trying to stay in what was perceived to be a more employable major (computer science, certain professional degrees) but who were getting Cs (or Ds and Fs) in that major, while running As and high Bs in their humanities courses. Not everyone has the same preparation or aptitude for a STEM degree. Certainly, we thought they would be better off changing majors than being kicked out of the university for not maintaining the minimum GPA. (And there are people who get As in engineering, but struggle to get a B in a humanities course, of course. It's a different skill set).
posted by jb at 12:00 PM on December 18, 2012


I went to school at an excellent midsized university for about $5,000CDN/year in tuition and fees.

It's $5k for a year of grad school tuition at my university (the "top comprehensive university in Canada"), with no differential for international students. (There is a higher international tuition at the undergrad level.)

We're so cheap compared to US fees that people can't believe that they can get any value for the money.

Our English department even managed to restructure a few years ago so that almost all their grad students get fully funded through TA'ships and fellowships. It is possible to get through grad school without incurring life-stealing debt, even in the humanities.

And this is at a time when one of the UC STEM departments has refused to admit in-state grad applicants because the out-of-staters pay more money.
posted by wenat at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sure, I guess. I'm not sure what to say here. I just think that schools and students alike should consider the demand for graduates when they're looking at their student numbers.

My point -- perhaps a little oblique -- with all of that is that the unemployment problem is not a "liberal arts grad" problem, it's a "late capitalism" problem. Shifting people to STEM is not going to solve that problem.
posted by gauche at 12:11 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


one of the UC STEM departments has refused to admit in-state grad applicants because the out-of-staters pay more money

That is totally fucking ridiculous.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2012


Some numbers — WSJ article "Who Can Still Afford State U?"

From the story: "CU has long attracted lots of out-of-state students, who pay higher tuition. Non-Coloradans currently pay $31,559 for tuition, not counting room and board. The higher nonresident fees go "a long way toward keeping the lights on," says Mr. Gleeson."
posted by wenat at 12:27 PM on December 18, 2012


one of the UC STEM departments has refused to admit in-state grad applicants because the out-of-staters pay more money

That is totally fucking ridiculous.


That is the almost-inevitable result of slashing funding for education. If it's a public good, the public needs to pay for it; if the public doesn't consider it a sufficiently useful public good and shows it by decades of slashing its own taxes and electing people who are willing to cut funding to education, then the people who run the school are forced to think like any other non-profit and maximize their income. The people have reaped what they sowed.
posted by Etrigan at 12:28 PM on December 18, 2012


Ack. I borked the link in my post and now I can't edit it. Here it is again, with policy quote.

"For the spring semester of 2013, the California State University has told campus leaders they may not admit any Californian students to graduate programs. Given that tuition covers only a fraction of the costs of these students' education, the university said it couldn't afford them."

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/08/13/one-cal-state-department-refuses-let-out-staters-over-state-residents
posted by wenat at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2012


I believe that if education and health care were 100% free at the point of delivery, we would solve 99% of society's problems.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2012


Because when you graduate with an English degree, you qualify to flip burgers. When you graduate with any degree containing "engineer" in the name, you have the job offers lined up midway through your senior year.

As others have noted, this is just silly. People with non-STEM degrees do just fine, and engineers can have terrible employment prospects depending on what they do and when they graduate. New aero engineering degree in 1991 = probably fucked.

And what explains the tuition increases at private schools?

You'd have to establish that it is, first, and looking at published prices doesn't tell you that. You'd need data on average or median net tuition after grants but before loans.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:39 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


jeffburdges: "In Scotland, St Andrews brags about a 98% completion rate. Yeah, they'll claim it's all by being selective, but that's pure bullshit. At 98%, your admissions completely outweighs all the actual grades the students achieve while there. I'm sorry but admissions simply cannot know that much. "

Just commenting on this particular example:

Firstly, British undergraduate admissions are a lot more objective and competitive than they are in the US, so it doesn't surprise me that they're better at predicting educational outcomes for their students. They're also drawing from a much smaller pool, which makes it easier to compare applicants.

The testing regime is much more specific and comprehensive than anything that we use in the US. (It's roughly analogous to using AP tests for purposes of college admissions, which generally isn't done) It's not perfect, and their system actually has lots of problems, but college admissions are way more objective than they are here.

Secondly, it's cheap, which means that very few people drop out due to financial constraints. That's pretty much exclusively a feature of the American system.

A lot of people walk away from St Andrews with a 3-year, General Degree. Basically, it states that you showed up, didn't fail out completely, and never declared a major.

Beyond that, St Andrews sorts its 4-year graduates into four categories: First Class, second-upper, second-lower, and third-class. First-Class is equivalent to graduating with honors, average students graduate generally earn one of the two second-class designations, and the third-class degree basically indicates that you survived at the bare-minimum level.

Generally speaking, university graduates are expected to list their degree classification on their CV/resume. If you omit it, employers will almost certainly ask, as it's a very relevant piece of information.

As long as St Andrews maintains a sufficient level of quality in its First and Second-class graduates, its selectivity or completion rates don't really matter, and even though the third-class graduates end up with a dubious qualification, they still got more of an education than they would have if they were expelled early on.

Personally, I think that there's something uniquely horrible about university programs that are designed with the specific intention of weeding out poor students so that they can bolster their own prestige, while leaving a trail of still-above-average dropouts in their wake. Life doesn't need to be a goddamn contest all the time. There's no reason why higher education needs to include a sudden-death round.
posted by schmod at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am a little stunned that I appear to be more familiar with the details of the IRS than someone allowed to publish an article in the NYT, but
1. as mentioned in the thread, yes the IRS offers payment plans.
2. as mentioned nowhere in the article or the thread, the IRS debt can be discharged in bankruptcy, which means that the graduates are 300millionpercent better off even if their entire remaining student loan balance was converted into an IRS tax debt.
posted by jacalata at 1:37 PM on December 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


You know, the idea that "graduating with a degree in English [or substitute your favorite liberal arts major here] qualifies you for flipping burgers" pisses me right off.

CORRECT. I teach something "STEMmy", and my biggest complaint about many students is that their style of thinking is insufficiently "textual", on average, to allow them to have any prayer of being able to even start reasoning about something complicated. I'm now wondering whether I should see if I'm allowed to flip through the English department's course catalogue and make certain things I find prerequisites for my "STEM" courses.

(Also, people with inadequate humanities education tend to dream up stupid, imprecise, overbroad, hokey-ass buzzwords like "STEM", corralling into one nebulous glob many things that aren't closely related in any meaningful way.)
posted by kengraham at 3:03 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


("Textual" here just means something like "having concepts arranged in some coherent, describable way". It really is true that being able to write well is one of few ways to have control over the level of rigour of one's own thinking; I don't know many mathematicians, for example, who can't write reasonably well about mathematics, but many students find the idea that a math class will require them to write coherent paragraphs, which is what you do when you prove theorems, strange.)
posted by kengraham at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2012


And this is at a time when one of the UC STEM departments has refused to admit in-state grad applicants because the out-of-staters pay more money.

The CSU system and UC system are not the same, by the way.

UCs have definitely been admitting more out-of-state and international undergraduates for the extra tuition. I want to say the official justification was that it would stave off a fee increase, which it probably did for about a semester. This is the trend across the board for public universities, at least when it comes to international applicants--there was an FPP about it at some point.
posted by hoyland at 3:22 PM on December 18, 2012


Slashing the compensation for high-education jobs would seem to be an unlikely proposal to win wide favor among the Metafilter crowd, given its general demographic.

I'm an academic who would support lower compensation for academics. The main problem with the university system is that there are far too many students, and the only solution to that has to do with the wider economy, either in its failure to provide jobs that don't "require" a degree, or its overestimation of the value of degrees in distinguishing between potential hires, or its failure to recognize non-degree qualifications.

The university system has been hijacked; businesses now extract a service (namely, certifying inexperienced people as likely reliable hires by giving them degrees, which businesses take as evidence of employment-worthiness, supposedly) from the university system without paying for it. As long as universities have to perform this task (i.e. granting degrees, giving exams, etc.) for the benefit of businesses, which task is not part of their actual mission, they should be compensated by those businesses. One way to do this is to raise corporate taxes and funnel the proceeds into higher education. It's only fair.
posted by kengraham at 3:22 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


jedicus: "The issue isn't (just) senior administration. It's primarily middle administration:

Between 1975 and 2005 ... the faculty-to-student ratio [at American higher educational institutions] has remained fairly constant, at approximately 15 or 16 students per instructor. ... In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every 84 students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like
"

So which offices should we cut first? Diversity? Institutional research? Finance department? Network engineering? Staffing has evidently gone up, but there's a lot more unfunded mandates, and more services in general. If you want universal campus crime databases, you'll need some staff to support that.

Anyways, you're dodging the issue. Student debt loads, and tuition by extension) isn't increasing because of the rising number of staffers. These numbers paint a clear story of dwindling state aid while costs pretty much track inflation over the past 10 years. Of course tuition has gone up. For the same reason taxes have gone down. What you dearly want to be a sign of bureaucratic growth and government waste is simply a mathematical reality of budgeting.
posted by pwnguin at 3:32 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


At many schools, the Liberal Arts are subsidizing STEM.
This seems like a non-sequitur and without some sort of evidence I'm not sure I agree it's true. Certainly at many Canadian universities the engineering tuition fees are higher than the arts. But I do not have some sort of longitudinal study sitting in front of me here.


The fees are higher because engineering costs more, not because they're subsidising the German department. Here's a Chronicle of Higher Ed forum post that refers to a Metafilter post! (Except I can't find the post.) Basically, science departments need a lot of stuff that costs a lot of money (for classes, not research) and most other subjects don't need much. Math is an exception in that math departments keep themselves afloat by teaching calculus to engineers.
posted by hoyland at 3:37 PM on December 18, 2012


Oops, meant to link to this essay, which I think was in the old post I can't find.
posted by hoyland at 3:38 PM on December 18, 2012


I think they (and you) are referring to this comment by gerryblog.
posted by stebulus at 3:53 PM on December 18, 2012


Anyways, you're dodging the issue. Student debt loads, and tuition by extension) isn't increasing because of the rising number of staffers. These numbers paint a clear story of dwindling state aid while costs pretty much track inflation over the past 10 years.

Then why has tuition also increased so dramatically at private schools? Decreasing state funding can't be the cause there.

What you dearly want to be a sign of bureaucratic growth and government waste is simply a mathematical reality of budgeting.

Bureaucratic growth sure, but I never said anything about government waste. In fact I've generally been referring to private schools, since that's where my personal experience lies.

Perhaps we can think about this a different way. "According to the College Board's Trends in College Pricing, the 2011-2012 average total costs (including tuition, fees, room and board) were ... $38,589 for students at four-year private colleges and universities. Assume an additional $4,000 for textbooks, supplies, transportation and other expenses." Can we agree that it should not cost (not as in cost to the student but in terms of expenditure) $42,589 to feed, clothe, transport, house, and educate a student for 8 months out of a year? For perspective, to have that much money after taxes someone would have to make almost $80,000 per year. And that's not even counting the cost offsets from endowments, research grants, technology licensing revenue, etc.

The idea that $43k per student is a reasonable or necessary cost is ludicrous. And if we can agree that there is some room for cuts, then where should they come from? I argue that they should come from places that don't directly affect the educational and research mission of universities and from places where expenditures have increased the most in recent years. And that means things like administration, staff, new construction (particularly construction that simply replaces one lecture hall with another), and increasingly luxurious amenities for students.
posted by jedicus at 4:01 PM on December 18, 2012


British undergraduate admissions are a lot more objective and competitive than they are in the US

I'd agree that British admissions are more competitive, but that's irrelevant because : (1) A-level grad inflation makes distinguishing amongst good students impossible. (2) High school grades like A-levels never predicted future academic performance well anyways. In effect, you've students uninspired by A-level material who do better once they hit more advanced material and hoards of students who push themselves for A-levels but actually cannot hack harder material easily.

They're also drawing from a much smaller pool, which makes it easier to compare applicants.

St Andrews admits spectacular numbers of foreign students, including students outside the E.U., especially Americas. Americans are so thick on the ground there that you actually find Republicans outside the U.S. there, fuck they burned Obama in effigy on Guy Fawkes night two-ish years ago.

.. and even though the third-class graduates end up with a dubious qualification, they still got more of an education than they would have if they were expelled early on.

You are definitely incorrect when comparing with American schools, but perhaps less incorrect when compared with Germany, France, etc. Up thread I quoted 24% as Georgia Tech's 1997 4 year completion rate, but their 7 year completion rate was 41%. An awful lot of students were permitted to simply continue retaking classes until they understood the material.

Imho, this is the only advantage of the student as consumer model, but you could probably improve upon it in a state as consumer model if you were willing to dedicate the resources. In Germany by comparison, they'd kick you out after failing any required class twice, which maybe isn't optimal. It's false however that a third tear "I attended the classes" degree represents anything really meaningful, except the desire and patience to get a degree. You cannot easily progress to the more advanced material without the basic material.

In any case, there is an underlying STEM vs humanities issue here as well. We're happy with degrees that say "This guy loves English literature, but he never really understood it", fair enough. We're not so keen on a degree that says "This guy really wants to build bridges or run banks, but his bridges would fall down" because he might move somewhere where people didn't understand the "fall down" part.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:13 PM on December 18, 2012


I think they (and you) are referring to this comment by gerryblog.

Ah. I missed that.

That Texas A&M can't hire a marketing graduate to properly price their undergraduate tuition is not necessarily representative of universities as a whole. Yes, engineering departments are expensive to run. And while I will be the first person to point out that pricing is not based on input costs I think universities should be run more-or-less on a cost-plus model. I guess it's nice that A&M's English majors underwrite the engineers but cross-subsidies always tends to create problems in the long run. I also wonder how A&M can continue to attract English majors when they much be charging more for tuition than schools that aren't using this model.
posted by GuyZero at 4:21 PM on December 18, 2012


We're not so keen on a degree that says "This guy really wants to build bridges or run banks, but his bridges would fall down" because he might move somewhere where people didn't understand the "fall down" part.

Based on my limited experience with the civil engineering department the issue is more like "this man wants to build bridges but is a high-functioning alcoholic."

(my apologies to whatever teetotaling civil engineers are out there, but man, in a faculty of heavy drinkers, civil engineers stood out)
posted by GuyZero at 4:23 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"This guy really wants to build bridges or run banks, but his bridges would fall down"

This is an issue that has nothing to do with physics or biology or most math or CS, etc. and therefore not a "STEM vs. humanities" issue. It's a civil engineering, finance, etc. vs. certain things a humanities graduate might do with their humanities knowledge issue, and therefore likely not much of an issue at all. Seriously, the term "STEM", and probably the term "humanities", obfuscates shit.

Moreover, plenty of people with humanities degrees later end up in situations where incompetence could cause disasters (e.g. many governments), just as plenty of people with degrees in scientific or technological subjects end up in positions of potential disaster-causing. The majority in both fields, I suspect, don't. I'm therefore not sure what the significance of this "issue" is.
posted by kengraham at 4:39 PM on December 18, 2012


UCs have definitely been admitting more out-of-state and international undergraduates for the extra tuition. I want to say the official justification was that it would stave off a fee increase, which it probably did for about a semester.

The trend up here has been to admit more and more out-of-staters (read Californians) that don't make it into their UC of choice.
So much so that a popular bumper sticker reads 'UC Eugene'.

The stated reason is much the same, that out-of-state kids pay full tuition, thus somehow making college more affordable for in-state students.
posted by madajb at 4:39 PM on December 18, 2012


Then why has tuition also increased so dramatically at private schools? Decreasing state funding can't be the cause there.


I work at a top private college, although it caters to a fairly specific group of students. Our "sticker" price, which is what you're referring to, is relatively high. The actual price that most of our students pay is nowhere near that. Tuition revenue covers something like 40% of the annual costs of operation. Why does the cost keep going up? Well, we have the same mandates of diversity and disabilities as public institutions. The Clery Act. Foreign Student services. Huge, immense information service costs: equipment, staffers, databases, contractors, software licenses, servers, digitization, and so forth. Health insurance costs to the college are an enormous issue. The endowment is producing less money than in the past, and we started off with a smaller, younger endowment than many of our peer schools. Transportation costs have gone up quite a lot. Insurance in general on the college has skyrocketed. Raises (cost of living increases, really) are happening for the first time in a couple of years, in part because faculty and upper-level staff retention was a problem. Raising money has been an issue, although the numbers are starting to creep up.

Yes, there have been some larger renovation projects, many of them on historic buildings that really did need new roofs and better access for students with disabilities. The gym hadn't really been touched since the 70's and the state of the fields was actively discouraging potential students who enjoyed their (Division III) sports. I am not sure which staff members you think don't "don't directly affect the educational and research mission of universities"-- do we cut the public safety staff? Do we decrease the amount of time the library is open? Do we cut research in the sciences?

I'm sorry, and I realize that not all colleges and universities are run the same way, but it's really frustrating to have people make vast assumptions about a business whose operations they do not appear to have understood. It would be nice if large donations weren't earmarked for new buildings, and it would be nice if potential students and donors didn't just love new facilities. The college is constantly working to reduce the cost of dining services, and our software licenses. We're working with other schools to try to reduce the costs and duplicate staffing of certain areas. We use a lot of old computers. In the future, will some of this be cheaper? Maybe. Library budgets are a huge issue for a lot of reasons. We're outsourcing more. Health care costs have actually been decreasing, and maybe that will happen more. Perhaps more of our students will go into software startups instead of the Peace Corps and TFA, and then donate lavishly (hah.) But no, for right now, we're just trying to make it work.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:40 PM on December 18, 2012


Then why has tuition also increased so dramatically at private schools?

Actual prices students pay seem to have been rising much less quickly than published tuition rates.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:43 PM on December 18, 2012


I also wonder how A&M can continue to attract English majors when they much be charging more for tuition than schools that aren't using this model.

Universities in the US basically all use this model, as far as I know. Technically, mine doesn't. It costs something like $300 more a semester in fees to do science, engineering or business (read they invented a fee for some students as a backdoor way to raising tuition). They're still likely being subsidised by everyone else.
posted by hoyland at 4:48 PM on December 18, 2012


ROU_Xenophobe: "Actual prices students pay seem to have been rising much less quickly than published tuition rates."

Is there any evidence at all to back this up?
posted by schmod at 4:53 PM on December 18, 2012


jedicus, look at figures 9 and 10 in the pdf you linked to -- it shows average estimated net price.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:55 PM on December 18, 2012


Planet Money did a bit earlier this year on list tuition vs net tuition. Basically private college net tuition has grown much more slowly than the published rates.
posted by GuyZero at 5:10 PM on December 18, 2012


As a rule, STEM degrees are much more likely to indicate "domain" knowledge and skills, kengraham. A crapy technical writer or editor might cause problems, but less so if anyone checks their work. A crapy statistician might cause much worse problems even if their work is reviewed.

Also, all STEM fields have subfields where screw ups can causes serious mistakes. Yes, a biologist screwing up gene therapy kills only a couple subjects, admittedly that's not exactly a collapsing building. Yet, his advice will could be trusted by serious people in ways the humanities major's commentary would never be trusted, well unless our humanities major studied economics, but theology has always been problematic.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:26 PM on December 18, 2012


Yet, his advice will could be trusted by serious people in ways the humanities major's commentary would never be trusted

Can we please stop with this weird derail of insulting all humanities majors? It's part of an artificial division that doesn't even map very well onto most jobs after graduation and I don't think it's a helpful way to debate college debt.
posted by jetlagaddict at 6:01 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


We might as well stop pretending that our "public" college and universities are publicly supported. They face an impossible mandate of keeping tuition reduced for in-state students while state legislatures slash their funding.

To choose one random example, the Commonwealth of Virginia contrubutes only 6% of the operating budget of the University of Virginia. Obviously the state government pays for portions of capital costs and other items, but the idea that "public" universities are publicly supported by the taxpayers that benefit from an educated citizenry is increasingly farcical.

The purpose of a publicly funded education system is to provide an educated, productive citizenry paid for by progressive taxation on people and corporations that benefit the most. The demand for a skilled workforce never went away, but progressive taxation was slashed bit by bit.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 6:05 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


jedicus: "Can we agree that it should not cost (not as in cost to the student but in terms of expenditure) $42,589 to feed, clothe, transport, house, and educate a student for 8 months out of a year?"

I agree -- how are they calculating that number? You're quoting last year's report, so I can't find the exact number you used, but figure 10 suggests a private nonprofit four-year school should be asking for 39,520 and getting 23,840. There's various reasons for that ask, but does 23k for one year sound about right? I think so; 10k in rent, 10k in tuition, and 5k in misc fees. I pay 10k a year in rent with a small commute, and my coworker who lives across the street from campus pays 15k. Is 10k a year in tuition and fees about the right price?
posted by pwnguin at 6:26 PM on December 18, 2012


Also, all STEM fields have subfields where screw ups can causes serious mistakes.

I don't dispute that there are numerous fields where someone's lack of specific knowledge or technical fluency can cause a disaster. I dispute the grouping of many diverse fields into a monolithic category called "STEM". In particular, I dispute it for the purposes of this point, since there is at least one "STEM" field where the largest reasonably foreseeable disaster that can happen due to lack of specific knowledge or technical insufficiency is the existence of published papers containing false statements; I work in this field.

You've actually provided one more excellent example of why, say, Teichmuller theory is, in a meaningful way, different from aeronautical engineering: shitty aeronautical engineering is the one that can, in an obvious way, kill folks.

There are many, many more serious distinctions between its constituent fields that make "STEM" a stupid phrase. The point of introducing categories into a discussion is to partition the universe in such a way that the sets in the partition are pairwise different in a way that's important to the discussion, and, for each set, the elements are similar by the discussion's criteria. "STEM" and "humanities" fail as categories in both respects, when the discussion is about the problems with higher education being discussed in this thread (erm, including the one in the FPP).

I have to wonder whether the use of these terms in such discussions was, at some point, by someone not even present in this particular discussion, introduced in order to make these issues hard to talk about clearly.

At present, better distinctions might include "fields whose corresponding university departments on average pay for themselves" vs. "other fields", or "fields that are essentially vocational" vs. "fields that are not essentially vocational". I think the latter distinction actually reflects a lot of what people think they are talking about when they say "STEM vs. non-STEM", although I'm not sure it reflects what you were discussin.
posted by kengraham at 6:28 PM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, all STEM fields have subfields where screw ups can causes serious mistakes. Yes, a biologist screwing up gene therapy kills only a couple subjects, admittedly that's not exactly a collapsing building. Yet, his advice will could be trusted by serious people in ways the humanities major's commentary would never be trusted

Here's a history major who a lot of people trusted to do something important but managed to screw things up pretty badly.
posted by naoko at 6:34 PM on December 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


At present, better distinctions might include "fields whose corresponding university departments on average pay for themselves" vs. "other fields", or "fields that are essentially vocational" vs. "fields that are not essentially vocational". I think the latter distinction actually reflects a lot of what people think they are talking about when they say "STEM vs. non-STEM", although I'm not sure it reflects what you were discussin.

Yes, exactly. Engineering and "Technology" (not sure what that one is exactly TBH) don't really match up with Science and Mathematics.

Where do fields like Economics or Sociology fall? Those aren't traditional humanities subjects but they're often heavily mathematical and Econ. is a pretty employable major.

"Liberal Arts" is a better category because it traditionally does include mathematics and science but not the vocational degrees like engineering but it's often colloquially used in a different way that doesn't include them.
posted by atrazine at 3:59 AM on December 19, 2012


[Folks maybe consider engaging with the topic of this thread and not going on about STEM vs liberal arts?]
posted by jessamyn at 7:02 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hope I can take out a loan to pay those taxes.
posted by Wild_Eep at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2012


.. in the absence of other changes, the only effect of free college for everyone will be to depress the value of that education, not only to the student but to society. -Etrigan

There isn't any free education in the "absence of other changes" because universities are free for students only when the state pays all the associated costs. In such systems, educated students are a "product" bought by a monopolistic state "consumer", with state employee faculty committees, and maybe legislators, making the "purchasing decisions".

As a rule, university faculty have traditionally cared more about quality than quantity, certainly some develop tools for educating the average student more effectively, but absent such new technique the vast majority simply accept their role as filters.

In principle, all students should receive free university education so long as they achieve some performance level that shows they aren't wasting state resources. If they graduate, great. If they fail out, well they were given a fair shot, rather than simply having their life handed to them by an arbitrary poorly informed admission councilor.

Ideally, we should offer free education for adult students that maybe failed out before but became more serious as they grew older, provided they can pass some readmission exams.

There is grade inflation in public schools mostly because the parents are the consumers, not the state. We've attempt to claw back some power from parents using state or nation wide exams, but that only goes so far. In France, universities hold some direct authority over the curriculum and examinations used in upper level high schools courses, thus depriving parents of their influence.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:10 AM on December 19, 2012


There isn't any free education in the "absence of other changes" because universities are free for students only when the state pays all the associated costs.

Well, that's not the only way, but I'll agree that it's the most likely way it would happen universally. You lay out good points about what would have to happen to make free (almost-)universal postsecondary education happen. But these are the "other changes" I was talking about Simply declaring college free without doing things like implementing minimum standards for students to continue would depress the value of college, and that's the part that people tend to skip over. You'd have to ration/control college more than the government or most colleges currently do.
posted by Etrigan at 8:37 AM on December 19, 2012


In practice, though, we still have GPA and class rank and recommendations, right? I am definitely not arguing that these are perfect tools, but it's not like a B.A. in English is some kind of undifferentiated thing of uniform value in the job market.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:10 AM on December 19, 2012


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