Join 3,563 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


pay to play
December 3, 2008 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Sadly, colleges are on track to become unaffordable for most Americans.
posted by plexi (114 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
The report, “Measuring Up 2008,” is one of the few to compare net college costs — that is, a year’s tuition, fees, room and board, minus financial aid — against median family income. Those findings are stark. Last year, the net cost at a four-year public university amounted to 28 percent of the median family income, while a four-year private university cost 76 percent of the median family income.

This is a stupid way to do it since the amount of financial aid is dependent on the family income.
posted by grouse at 8:32 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I remember my fifth year at college, there was an interview with the new-ish Chancellor. Tuition had gone up at our Top-20 school (there's a joke right there for you), far beyond inflation. In the interview, he explained that tuition had to increase, not to keep up with expenses, but rather to match the tuition of the school one ahead of us in ranking, to make our August Institution seem on par with that next-higher school. Fucking ridiculous.

When I was figuring out where to go to college, my main calculation was how much in loans I'd have to take out. So if a state school charged 10, and offered 6 in scholarships, my loans would be 4. The private school charged 20, but offered 17, so only three in loans. The problem with this is that scholarships stay level though one's entire college career (assuming you're not so fucking stellar as to earn *new*, *additional* scholarships), while tuition goes up - so the state school after four years charges 14, and the private school charges 30.

Considering the lack of true education, how little I really *learned* about the world at larrge (vs, a bunch of rote mindless data), I really wish I'd gone to a state school.
posted by notsnot at 8:35 AM on December 3, 2008


the amount of financial aid is dependent on the family income

And other things.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2008


George Washington University
Washington, D.C.
2006-07 Tuition: $37,820

University of Richmond
Richmond, Va.
2006-07 Tuition: $36,550

Columbia University
New York, N.Y.
2006-07 Tuition: $35,166

Etc.
posted by plexi at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2008


Just make college education free already. Guaranteed progressive majority now and for the foreseeable future. Big boost to the economy. Decrease in health costs. And so forth.
posted by DU at 8:41 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


...on track?
posted by backseatpilot at 8:45 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is a thread this where I can solve all of our social problems with pithy, sweeping generalizations and ideation? Hooray!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:46 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Ah, college only for the wealthy elites. Just like the good ol' days.
posted by absalom at 8:48 AM on December 3, 2008


WHY has there been this incredible growth in cost over the past 3 decades? What's driving it? What are the dominant factors? Why is sitting in a classroom listening to lectures, writing term papers, and leading discussion groups so much more expensive than in, say, the 1960s?
posted by Auden at 8:50 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


UVa: "For the 2006-07 school year the cost is calculated as $17,764 for in-state students and $35,644 for out-of-state students. This figure includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, housing, meals, personal expenses, and travel to and from home"

UVa beats the pants off of both GWU and UR in most metrics. Just saying, there's options.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:52 AM on December 3, 2008


Just make college education free already.

I can't imagine how incorporating post-secondary education into America's already excellent system of public education could possibly be a horrible idea.

Nope, not at all.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:52 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, according to USNews, UR offers an average discount of 59%, so that top-line number isn't necessarily meaningful.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2008


I can't imagine how incorporating post-secondary education into America's already excellent system of public education could possibly be a horrible idea.

Whoops, sorry. I had forgotten about the voluminous research showing that a poorly educated electorate makes the best decisions on how to improve the school system.
posted by DU at 8:56 AM on December 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Fancy digital projectors

I think actually it might have more to do with the fact that schools are run as businesses selling a service. Part of the 'it's a business' mentality is to grow the 'company'. Because if you're not growing (as a business) you're dying (as a business)

In the case of a school, you have to grow by accepting more students. To under serve more students, you need more facilities....so you increase tuition.

Then you can go to a bank or other lenders/financiers and say "we have x thousand students committed to spending y grand per year for at least for years - can we have a few mil to build some new buildings? Here's what we can offer as a return on your investment..."

Linking grade inflation and lax admission standards to this practice is an exercise left to the reader (5 pages, double spaced, with at least 3 references. follow MLA format)
posted by device55 at 8:57 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


The tuition at my alma-mater in 1981 went up to $1790 a year; this year tuition at Pitt (a state school) is $12,832 for in-state undergrads. Back then, even a poor kid like me could put himself through school with a full-time summer job, a part-time job during the year and some help from Pell Grants and graduate without a $100K debt load.
posted by octothorpe at 8:58 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


WHY has there been this incredible growth in cost over the past 3 decades? What's driving it?

It's what the market will bear. In particular, demand is out of whack because many people do not consider the cost when deciding on a university, and because the cost is borne by someone else (such as financial aid).

We ought to fix our underfunded and broken K-12 education system long before making higher education totally free.
posted by grouse at 8:58 AM on December 3, 2008


for == four. I wint to colledge
posted by device55 at 8:59 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


grouse: "
We ought to fix our underfunded and broken K-12 education system long before making higher education totally free.
"

I'd think that a big part of the problem with K-12 is that a huge number of students in high-school know that they'll never be able to afford college so what's the point of working hard in high-school just to graduate and get a minimum wage job?
posted by octothorpe at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


We ought to fix our underfunded and broken K-12 education system long before making higher education totally free.

Why are these sequential tasks?
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


If college was free (I'm guessing you mean state universities) and more people attended, wouldn't it be possible that a bachelor's degree would lose value? Or wouldn't it be far more competitive to get in? And if it were to become very competitive, wouldn't it have more prestige or cachet and draw in the students from only the best high schools which are probably the most affluent anyway? Then how would the average person be able to get free schooling? (This is sort of farfetched, but I was just wondering...)

The university I attended in England had very cheap tuition for domestic students. However, they had to admit less qualified overseas students (um, I guess that's me and I think we were hovering around 50% of the school's population, if I remember the angry letter written to the school newspaper about how there were too many foreigners at the school) and charge them (very high) international student rates. This irked (rightly) the domestic students because it makes it far more difficult for them to get into school.

I see that California's community colleges are very cheap. It's not prestigious, but it's nice that there's an avenue (an avenue I should have taken, had I any sense of how difficult earning money is at that ignorant age). The community colleges in my area are very expensive compared to California's.
posted by anniecat at 9:06 AM on December 3, 2008


In the case of a school, you have to grow by accepting more students. To under serve more students, you need more facilities....so you increase tuition.

Sounds about right. My U traded my money for a new shopping mall Student Union and a shitty football coach.
posted by carsonb at 9:08 AM on December 3, 2008


[snark]And this is why I went to Community College first...[/snark]
posted by JoeXIII007 at 9:11 AM on December 3, 2008


Oh god, college. I'm there right now, putting myself through as best I can. I'm lucky to be smart enough to get a really good scholarship (provided I keep my grades up, which likely won't pan out after this semester) and a few small ones, and then financial aids and stafford loans cover most of the rest, with the difference paid for by my full-time job on the holidays.

But I spend a lot of nights staying up late trying to figure out how I'm going to do next semester. And I'm at a state school and live cheaply (though this late in the semester I'm selling plasma for gas money).

This is not a comfortable place to be, and I'm not even that badly off.
posted by internet!Hannah at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2008


Back in the day (late 60s/early 70s), CUNY offered free tuition and open enrollment, and yet was still a well enough respected institution. As I recall, tuition doubled over the four years I went there in the early 90s (from $800/semester to $1600, or thereabouts).
posted by Casuistry at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2008


I figured college tuitions did match inflation - real inflation, not the measure of DVD players and the like. Tuitions reflect the costs of food, housing and medical services necessary to serve a large population of students and staff.

Not to say there isn't some gouging going on, but living is more expensive today than 40 years ago - even if the toys seem cheaper.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2008


...wouldn't it be possible that a bachelor's degree would lose value?

Only if you define "value" as scarcity. Which is kind of backasswards for education. We are each individually and all together better off when we are better educated, period. I don't care if you call that high or low "value".
posted by DU at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2008 [11 favorites]


On the other hand, a lot of colleges are on track to becoming more like 9 month long summer camp than anything resembling a place of learning, so it's not like they're missing much. This goes in with running the places like businesses. Many students are in college not to learn anything (specific or general) but merely because it's normative to their social class to go to college after going to high school. So to attract the most "consumers" there will be a focus on a ridiculous amount of amenities, services, and frippery rather than academics.

Sure makes me glad I didn't go to a real college for undergrad.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:14 AM on December 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Actually, I wonder sometimes if community colleges aren't going to start offering 4 year accredited degrees at a fraction of the cost to compete against big state schools and their bloat.

Not every kid wants that classic "Animal House" college experience, plenty (like myself) just wanted to get out there in the world and just start doing stuff.

It would seem like an obvious market solution to this problem. If big universities started losing students to community colleges offering your standard issue bidness degree or humanities degrees, I think you'd see prices drop or financial aid increase.
posted by device55 at 9:16 AM on December 3, 2008


Why are these sequential tasks?

They aren't. In fact, I think the K-12 educational system is unlikely to be fixed anytime soon. But I think that it, along with many other areas of government underspending (such as health care) are more worthy than universal free higher education.
posted by grouse at 9:16 AM on December 3, 2008


The more things change.....

There are, by the way, vast numbers of private schools in England. Second-rate, third-rate, and fourth-rate (Ringwood House was a specimen of the fourth-rate school), they exist by the dozen and the score in every London suburb and every provincial town. At any given moment there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of ten thousand of them, of which less than a thousand are subject to Government inspection. And though some of them are better than others, and a certain number, probably, are better than the council schools with which they compete, there is the same fundamental evil in all of them; that is, that they have ultimately no purpose except to make money. Often, except that there is nothing illegal about them, they are started in exactly the same spirit as one would start a brothel or a bucket shop. Some snuffy little man of business (it is quite usual for these schools to be owned by people who don’t teach themselves) says one morning to his wife:

‘Emma, I got a notion! What you say to us two keeping school, eh? There’s plenty of cash in a school, you know, and there ain’t the same work in it as what there is in a shop or a pub. Besides, you don’t risk nothing; no over’ead to worry about, ‘cept jest your rent and few desks and a blackboard. But we’ll do it in style. Get in one of these Oxford and Cambridge chaps as is out of a job and’ll come cheap, and dress ‘im up in a gown and—what do they call them little square ‘ats with tassels on top? That ‘ud fetch the parents, eh? You jest keep your eyes open and see if you can’t pick on a good district where there’s not too many on the same game already.’.....

...Of course, these schools are not all alike. Not every principal is a grasping low-minded shrew like Mrs Creevy, and there are plenty of schools where the atmosphere is kindly and decent and the teaching is as good as one could reasonably expect for fees of five pounds a term. On the other hand, some of them are crying scandals.


George Orwell, A Clergyman's Daughter (1935)
posted by Jakey at 9:18 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Not to say there isn't some gouging going on, but living is more expensive today than 40 years ago - even if the toys seem cheaper.

The cost of tuition and fees has increased well beyond the rate of inflation. I don't think "gouging" is the right word for that, but the cost increase is real.
posted by grouse at 9:19 AM on December 3, 2008


I wonder what the rate of increase in fees looks like plotted against interest rates and ease of getting credit? As the first link notes, the gap between the increasing education costs and income has been funded by debt. If the market has been able to bear these costs due to easy credit, then perhaps what we have here is another bubble (in education revenues) that may soon be popping with a loud noise.
posted by pascal at 9:20 AM on December 3, 2008


The on-campus cost of a Florida native to attend the University of Florida (the most expensive public school in the state) is $15,740.

The actual report claims that "Poor and working-class families must devote 24% of their income, even after aid, to pay for costs at public four-year colleges."

In Hialeah, a city in South Florida, wikipedia quotes working class income for a family at $31,621.

So, a family ends up paying about $8,000 a year for their child to attend UF. Or more plausibly the student takes on $8000 in loans, per year. Is that really supposed to be all that much? This is supposed to earn Florida an F, according to the report? Really?

Sure as a percentage of income that's a lot of money but getting a bachelors for $40k in loans is not bad at all. Given that someone with a Bachelor's Degreee seems to earn about 70% more, over their lifetime, than someone with a high school, it seems like a pretty good deal.
posted by oddman at 9:23 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I put myself through college part-time over 9 years and as such had a front row seat to watch tuition costs sail right out of sight. Why did they go up? So the university I went to could embark on a massive building program and re-invent/rebrand themselves from a modest commuter campus into a "research university". It sure as heck didn't increase the quality or availability of the education.

Colleges are businesses now, with products to sell and customers to fleece. One look at the proliferation of graduate programs, MBA programs, questionable degrees (degree in "homeland security" anyone?) and all the attendant marketing of said programs and you'll know where those tuition dollars go.

Also, FWIW there are still a few relative bargains left.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 9:24 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The cost of tuition and fees has increased well beyond the rate of inflation.

Well, sort of. It's increased well beyond the increases for most consumer goods, but what about food, housing and health care? These categories have seen major inflation over the last few decades. They are also services colleges and universities provide to very large populations.

I'm not saying tuition equals the rate of inflation (I was unclear in my above post,) but tuition reflects the rate of inflation of certain goods and services that are necessary for colleges to provide.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2008


I wonder what the most expensive / worthless degree is? A poetry degree from Kenyon?
posted by mattbucher at 9:42 AM on December 3, 2008


From my perspective there's been an explosion of undergraduate and post-grad institutions in recent years. Whether you're talking about Univ of Phoenix (debates about quality aside), or more distance education via state schools, technical colleges offering bachelors, post-diploma degrees, etc. The options are there for low-cost education, but you might need to look into non-traditional options.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:46 AM on December 3, 2008


My college has a nice little shadow organization to handle gifts and fees, shielding the finances from public scrutinize. The story is that someone wanted to donate pigs to the school, but wasn't allowed to for tax reasons. Since then, the foundation has become enmeshed in the school, taking in funds and doing as it wishes.

And then there's the naming of things - the whole College of Business was rebranded as the Orfalea College of Business (OCOB), thanks to a gift of securities worth $15 million from the founder of Kinkos. I'm still a bit hazy on how those securities would be used to pay for things, but there was a lot of hype around the largest individual gift of cash or securities ever made to one of the California State University system's 23 campuses.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:46 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


And one reason to try and "fix" the education systems one sector at a time (K-12, then universities) would be the current economic quagmire. On the whole, universities are probably in good shape, physically. But the physical state of some public schools are pretty scary, which can make a mess of school moral, in turn decreasing academic efforts. Because if people don't care enough to keep the school functioning, why would they care about you, the student?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:51 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kids in Germany rioted when they introduced a €500 studentengebühr per semester. Now a lot of kids are coming over here to Austria where college is free. Of course, the campus is a dump and looks like it was built by communists, but they're working on it.

As the richest country in the world, you'd think the US could do it.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:54 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Supply == Demand

People have long told their kids "Education is that important; go ahead and take on debt to achieve it." Thus, demand for a college education was inelastic.

As long as demand stayed high, institutions of higher learning could charge all the market would bear. Now that easily available credit has dried up, many people who would have signed their lives away for learning can no longer do it, no matter how important we tell them education is. We have reached the knee in the s/d curve.

High priced universities will see enrollment fall. Low-cost alternatives like community colleges will see increased interest. Overall, prices will fall. Fewer stadiums will be built. Buildings will not be renovated.

Life will go on. And America will loose a little more of its preeminence in the world.
posted by pointless_incessant_barking at 10:03 AM on December 3, 2008


One of the main reasons that tuition rates have gone up so much is the ease of getting student loans. Colleges feel free to raise tuition because students will just take out more loans to pay for it.

In my opinion, it's ridiculous that student loans are not tied to lenders' ability to repay but are instead available equally to students regardless of grades or area of study. Imagine if banks gave huge mortgages to everybody without regard for their income or even whether they had a job. Oh, wait, they did that and it was a disaster. The same thing will happen to student loans in a few years, and it will be even worse because student loans cannot be escaped through bankruptcy.

I think four major reforms are necessary. First, student loans should be at least somewhat dependent on grades and area of study. Giving the same $100k in loans to a C-average philosophy major as to an A-average chemistry major is absurd. Second, the government needs to cap student loans and peg the cap to inflation to control costs. Third, student loans should be dischargeable through bankruptcy in at least some circumstances. Fourth, colleges should be required to spend 5% of their endowment per year, exclusive of fund management overhead, which would allow dozens of schools to eliminate tuition increases and double financial aid.

Best of all would probably be a single-payer system for tuition plus endowment income. Educational quality would not suffer as donations from alumni would incentivize schools to produce happy, successful alumni.
posted by jedicus at 10:05 AM on December 3, 2008


Maybe if a college degree wasn't a prerequisite for jobs that do not necessarily benefit from one, there wouldn't be the demand that allows colleges to be so free with tuition hikes.
posted by parudox at 10:06 AM on December 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


We ought to fix our underfunded and broken K-12 education system long before making higher education totally free.

We could start by unlinking public K-12 school funding from local property taxation, which helps maintain economic segregation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:06 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


I now work for a community college; I'm told we do well in bad economic times. My degree is from a state university not too far away. Tuition today is basically functioning the same way magazine subscription fees work: to make sure you enroll in things you really want.

As a percentage of budget, tuition at my community college is like 10 percent. At a state uni it's far lower. The bulk of money comes from grants, primarily research. Teaching is a liability assigned by the government, rather than a core service.
posted by pwnguin at 10:09 AM on December 3, 2008


Well, sort of.

Not sort of at all. I'll say it again: tuition has increased well beyond the rate of inflation. While there are many factors for this, inflation is a minor one. Universities are, in fact, doing much more than they used to. They are spending more, in real terms.

It's increased well beyond the increases for most consumer goods, but what about food, housing and health care?

Very little of tuition is spent on food and housing. You might have something if you were arguing that housing and food bills are only increasing at the rate of inflation, but this is about tuition. As far as health care costs, they shouldn't affect universities significantly more than any other sector.
posted by grouse at 10:10 AM on December 3, 2008


Take a look at George Washington University's budget to see how they spend their record tuitions. (pdf)

Some highlights:

Tuition revenue will increase $24.0 million next year. The
most significant increases include:
􀂙 Undergraduate + $7.0 million
􀂙 Graduate, On Campus + $5.7 million
􀂙 Off Campus + $3.9 million
􀂙 Law + $2.6 million

The budget reflects the following changes to aid packaging:
􀂙 Increasing the caps on the amount of institutional grant
aid incoming students can receive:
􀂾 From $35,000 to $40,000 for highly qualified
students
􀂾 From $32,000 to $35,000 for all other students
􀂙 Reducing the debt burden per student by eliminating
the requirement that families fund $2,000 above the
Expected Family Contribution

I've taught at underfunded state schools and overfunded private schools. Major renovations and new constructions make up a large part of the budget, but they also play a large role in attracting students and faculty.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:12 AM on December 3, 2008


I can't imagine how incorporating post-secondary education into America's already excellent system of public education could possibly be a horrible idea.

Yeah, public universities are such a stupid idea. I'm sure they'd all suck. Who would think of such a stupid idea?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:17 AM on December 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


Major renovations and new constructions make up a large part of the budget, but they also play a large role in attracting students and faculty.

I'd love to see research on this, especially the part re faculty. Are we talking competition for upper echelon of faculty and established faculty or all faculty? In an overcrowded marketplace, I'm thinking that any job will do, beyond a certain baseline, but that location, research support, teaching loads, etc., all matter far more than swanky cafeterias, rec centers with climbing walls and student centers with full service Starbucks locations. If you're in a large enough city, especially, better options for eating and coffee drinking are probably available elsewhere. As for rec centers, faculty only get discounts for rec center use, class times for yoga and spinning classes and such may be inconvenient as compared to non-university gyms, etc.
posted by raysmj at 10:33 AM on December 3, 2008


How public is "public", when it still costs $10,000 a year?
posted by specialfriend at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


@DU: By value, I mean income potential.
posted by anniecat at 10:52 AM on December 3, 2008


Higher education should be free and available to all.

The only advantage America has is that we have a large educated populace. Whatever it is you want to do, the Chinese and Indians can do it cheaper, faster, and without a bunch of inconvenient environmental or labor regulations. If we're going to keep our advantage, the only way will be through education.

And really, the current situation is absurd. We should not be providing people with a disincentive to getting an education. We should not be charging people to become useful members of society. If someone wants to put in the time and do the work, we should give them an education. Especially in areas like medicine, science, and engineering where we aren't producing nearly enough graduates.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:57 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


WHY has there been this incredible growth in cost over the past 3 decades?

A big well-duh reason is that states have been consistently and strongly reducing appropriations for state universities, so they've jacked up tuition to make up for it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


None of my grandparents went to college; all became solidly middle-class, because in the Forties you didn't need a bachelor's degree to become middle-class. (Two of them did receive 2-year vocational degrees.)

My parents went to college and business school and became solidly middle-to-upper class, because in the Seventies if you went to a professional school you were pretty much guaranteed to become middle-to-upper class.

My wife and I went to college and will be struggling with her student loans for twenty years, because nowadays a college degree pretty much guarantees a life of wage (salary?) slavery.

Neither of us are planning on attending professional school.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:01 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, Harvard's endowment has lost 22% of its value since July, equating to about $8 billion. That loss, apparently, is larger than the endowments of all other schools in the United States, save for Stanford, MIT, Yale and Princeton.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:02 AM on December 3, 2008


And, no, higher education shouldn't be free. Higher education should be expensive, but with generous need-based financial aid.

Higher education is likely to remain predominantly the province of the privileged even if it is free. If you go to the UK or Germany or Austria, you will find only a relatively small number of people getting BAs or their equivalents, and those people will be drawn strongly disproportionately from the well-off.

By making it free, you're taking everyone's money and using it, mostly, to subsidize the well-off to do something they were going to do anyway and could afford to do anyway. There's little rationale to subsidize an activity that was going to happen anyway, and little moral justification to charge poor families for a richer child's education.

Better to charge the well-off a substantial amount of money and use some of it (and other tax money) to subsidize those students from poorer families that do attend.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:05 AM on December 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Reading some of the above posts make it sound as if it's just a supply and demand issue, and that the costs are artificially high.

Most of the public schools I know of are not charging their full costs (due to being partially offset by state funding). Nor are they charging as much as the public will pay (if they were, they would have large budget surpluses, which they do not). The increase in costs are due to universities functioning in a different capacity then colleges did in the past, leading to greater spending on infrastructure, research, and ammenities. You can argue that colleges should focus solely on the academics, but I definitely see value in what colleges offer besides the actual classroom experience. I agree that options should exist for those that feel differently (community colleges, online classes, etc...).

Another factor that needs to be considered is that many universities have been dealing with a reduction in state aid, which needs to be offset with higher tuition.

This goes beyond just a supply/demand discussion. In my opinion, a reduction in demand wouldn't reduce the cost. Many of the schools are carrying debt, and a reduction in students would actually lead to an increase to cover the fixed costs.

Some of the top private universities have more money then they know what to do with, but that's mainly due to the extremely large endowments they have due to private donations. Besides arguing against their non-profit status, I don't see how you can complain that their alumni give too much.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:11 AM on December 3, 2008


I'm split on the issue of free college.

On one hand it would be nice to not have to pay for college. That's one of the reasons I dropped out of Purdue: I didn't want to be accountable for all that debt, and have to be a slave for X years.

On the other hand I would rather people go out and educate themselves rather than making the often passive choice of going to college. Sitting in lectures and the whole grind of that variety of education for my tax dollars? So you can get a cushy passionless office job? No thanks. Get your piece of paper off the sweat of someone else's back.

A state program where (young?) people could apply for funding for a project that they demonstrated commitment to and were really excited about would be really cool though. That would weed out the people apathetic about their education, the kind of people who infest the current system.
posted by symbollocks at 11:16 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's not the climbing wall as such: it's the newness of the building and the care and maintenance that gets spent on the grounds. Plus there's a strong correlation between major facilities spending and the other things you list: low teaching loads, research support, and student quality. It's a rich-get-richer problem: especially since faculty costs are such a small part of the budget. There's definitely exceptions for overprivileged and undertalented spoiled brats, but better prepared students tend to go to schools with niceer facilities, then tend to get higher paying jobs and donate more to expand the endowments. As rational entrepreneurs, universities spend these donations on the things that are most likely to increase future income: newer, nicer facilities.

The problem is twofold: first, undergraduate educations largely supply a positional good. (That is, we don't make students better, we just filter the better from the worse.) Second, state funding can no longer compete with private funding in delivering this good to the public.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:16 AM on December 3, 2008


When you're making $16k a year, you tend to be a little skeptical of people telling you what a great investment college is. $10k in debt is nothing to the middle class; to the lower class, taking out loans to pay for college can seem like risking your entire future.

But what about financial aid? I think everybody knows that financial aid includes your parents' incomes in calculations until you're 25; shouldn't you should be taking responsibility for your own finances long before that time? When I was 26, I thought I might have a chance at going to school, and applied for college and for financial aid. I made $12k the preceding year-- even without children to support, not exactly enough to save to pay for college. I was awarded no financial aid. I had to wait three more years before, by an accident of timing, I was able to claim a small enough income to qualify for financial aid and actually make it into school. (Now that I make a good income, thanks to my college education, $10k in loans seems like nothing. A little extra money makes a big difference in worldview.)

Community colleges are growing in popularity, and I think for clear reasons. A two or three year degree focused on specific, pragmatic skills, for a reasonable price, is how college should work for a person like me. People can talk all they want about how important a broad, liberal arts education is, but a four-year liberal arts degree isn't about gaining the ability to do and know useful things; it's about becoming part of a certain social class. Michel Foucalt has nothing to do with fixing cars, or with running a business, or even (arguably) setting social policy. Higher education in the US is not just about education; it's the best method we've found for instituting and preserving social classes without upsetting our vocally cherished ideas of equality. Given that, is it any surprise that it needs to be priced outside of the ability of most Americans to pay?
posted by nathan v at 11:17 AM on December 3, 2008 [9 favorites]


Regarding the "fix the K-12 system before colleges" argument: The main difference to me is that it's extremely easy to flunk kids out of college, but not so easy to remove them from lower level education. Prior to college, I mostly blame the parents when kids under perform (learning disabilities aside). College is one of the first times kids realize they're truly responsible for their future, and if they screw up, we no longer need to keep giving them more opportunities. As long as this doesn't change (or the bar is raised even higher), I'm all for offering higher education with 100% of the cost covered.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:19 AM on December 3, 2008


WHY has there been this incredible growth in cost over the past 3 decades?

Because employers require a fucking degree for just about everything these days.

It's a choice between taking on a small mortage's worth of debt or "Would you like fries with that, sir?"
posted by jason's_planet at 11:20 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


How public is "public", when it still costs $10,000 a year?

How public is the elementary school up the road when you pay $10,000 a year in taxes? How public is your drivers licence when you pay $50 to get it renewed?

Public does not equate free, it just means that it is owned and operated, at least in a majority part, by the government.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:22 AM on December 3, 2008


By making it free, you're taking everyone's money and using it, mostly, to subsidize the well-off to do something they were going to do anyway and could afford to do anyway.

Well, but you are taking more money from the well-off, under our current tax system, yes? So they are paying for it. And being well-off, it's quite likely they won't want to send Chet and Bibby to public uni with the plebes, but to someplace exclusive, which they will pay for. And yay for them.

Whereas any plebe who wanted one, could get a full education at public uni, provided they were able to pass the entrance exams. And a lot of kids who would never have gotten to go to college will, giving the U.S. a chance to add their educated minds and bright ideas to a vastly-improved job pool of productive citizens.

Now I'm all for including trade schools in this, for kids who want to learn those skills instead, as well as community college degrees. Some professions don't need four years or a lot of literature courses.

Compared to your average Unnecessary Middle Eastern War, I'm thinking the cost/benefit ratio would actually be quite good over the long term.
posted by emjaybee at 11:26 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Because employers require a fucking degree for just about everything these days.

It's a choice between taking on a small mortage's worth of debt or "Would you like fries with that, sir?"


And just as frequently, the employer knows it's a choice between hiring someone who couldn't afford school but has an amazing resume all the same or "Oh. Well. Um. They didn't go over that at my school."
posted by katillathehun at 11:26 AM on December 3, 2008


I'm a George Washington University Alumni. I went there even though college would have been free if I stayed in Georgia and I have no regrets. I met my (now) husband the first day of school, received enough scholarships so that my junior and senior years were free of charge and I spent every weekend exploring DC and enjoying all of the free museums. I was stupidly happy there for four years. I ate good food, had my own room, and even served as a tour guide on the GW trolley. When they call asking for money I always write a check on the spot.

Unfortunately, my husband and I will probably not be sending our kids to GW short of a miracle. If it costs 50% more than when we attended I can only imagine how much it will cost when they're ready.
posted by Alison at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


symbollocks, I look at differently.
I don't want a bunch of apathetic, uneducated people making up the masses. Perhaps if they went to university they'd end up with a soulless office job, but maybe they'd find something they were passionate about that they'd never experience without the opportunities college offers. I think people passionate about their career at 17/18 are the exception, and those that do exist will do fine regardless.

Ideally I'd like to see higher education offered to anyone who can maintain decent grades and is willing to work part time during the semester and full time during breaks. Maybe require a full year of volunteer work after they get their degree? Room and board doesn't need to be covered, though (I'm assuming that's factored in in the high numbers above).

This still leaves a problem for those directly responsible for family members or who don't have room/board available to them, but perhaps the current student aid system could be used to address these cases.
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2008


Especially in areas like medicine, science, and engineering where we aren't producing nearly enough graduates.

Medicine, yes perhaps, but they set out to slow the graduating pool of student MDs in the '70s to keep salaries sky high.

Science and Engineering, NO, they are producing WAY more than enough - don't believe the "not enough High Tech Workers" hype brought to you by universities and industry that have an interest in cutting salaries, there are plenty of science and engineering PhDs. from brand name schools without a job right now. I've seen their resumes. There are too many.
posted by peppito at 11:37 AM on December 3, 2008


It's not the climbing wall as such: it's the newness of the building and the care and maintenance that gets spent on the grounds. Plus there's a strong correlation between major facilities spending and the other things you list: low teaching loads, research support, and student quality.

So, in other words, the facilities you mentioned aren't the attraction alone. The fancy schmancy student facilities most likely have no causal relationship with successful faculty recruitment efforts. The most significant effect is more likely, I would guess, to come from an institution's overall funding level and fiscal commitment to faculty, not student-targeted amenities. I'd love to see how many students are attracted to campuses solely for amenities, meanwhile, as opposed to a school's educational rep and other matters, including location and availability and level of financial aid for the average student and such. (I'm guessing the studies would be as conflicting or mixed as those, say, addressing whether new stadiums with skyboxes and whatnot affect an urban area's economy. Depends on the research methods used, available data, the operationalization and choice of variables to measure, etc.) I'm sure campus marketing and facilities divisions have their own research to back up claims for such amenities, but they'd warrant suspicious, in my book. Look at what the wonders of marketing research brought the real estate industry.
posted by raysmj at 11:45 AM on December 3, 2008


Community colleges are fantastic, and often under-valued. Some professors teach at both universities and community colleges, and often teach the same courses (a math prof at my school told a class that there was a high school kid who was enrolled in one of his courses, but he could have gotten the same class at a fraction of the cost if that student took the professor's course at the community college). At the community college level, you're more likely to have small, personal classes, and have more time to talk to the professor. For kids who are bored of high school, taking summer classes at the local CC can both reduce the number of high school classes you need to take, and possibly knock off some General Education courses from the university level, without the need to worry about Advanced Placement testing at the end - your grades matter all along, instead of one final test.

It's also a great way to look into some careers. Instead of dumping a lot of money at a university, you can "sample" courses at a community college for a fraction of the cost. Yet, community colleges are often looked down upon by people who are looking towards continuing their education.

Sure, you're lacking something of that "college experience," but it's not really necessary to be in a costly university to get that experience. Hang out in the common areas and be surrounded by the insights of the college students. Or crash a party, which isn't too hard to do. Then realize college kids can be quite like you, and it's really not that exciting anymore. Maybe not.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:46 AM on December 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


So, this NYU financial aid pamphlet is someone's idea of a joke, right?
posted by 2bucksplus at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I don't want a bunch of apathetic, uneducated people making up the masses. Perhaps if they went to university they'd end up with a soulless office job, but maybe they'd find something they were passionate about that they'd never experience without the opportunities college offers. I think people passionate about their career at 17/18 are the exception, and those that do exist will do fine regardless.

Er, I wasn't talking about careers. I should note that I find the very idea of a "career" toxic toxic toxic. That idea creates the current masses. It's what makes that office job soulless: doing the same thing, year after year, 8 hours a day.

Ideally I'd like to see higher education offered to anyone who can maintain decent grades and is willing to work part time during the semester and full time during breaks. Maybe require a full year of volunteer work after they get their degree? Room and board doesn't need to be covered, though (I'm assuming that's factored in in the high numbers above).

But what about the people who aren't good at school? I could do school, but it would ruin me. My brain (and most people's, I think) is just not cut out for that type of learning. I love learning, but I hate school. My education is the world I live in, the community I participate in. I would be able to do and learn more if I had more money though.

If someone handed me a check for 10k I could get a cheap apartment for a year and still have plenty enough to live on. I could host community classes, meetings, read tons of books out of the library without 8 hours of my day being sucked away. I could learn a musical instrument, start a band, record an album. I could start a community garden. I could change a neighborhood, or more. I could set an example for future generations. As it is now, I can still do most of that stuff, but with less than 6 hours left in my day it's hard to fit it all in, let alone finding the energy for those things after a long day at work.

Hand a college 10k and it disappears up in smoke, not even enough for room and board for a student. Centralization is inefficient like that.
posted by symbollocks at 11:59 AM on December 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


And just as frequently, the employer knows it's a choice between hiring someone who couldn't afford school but has an amazing resume all the same or "Oh. Well. Um. They didn't go over that at my school."

Huh. That has almost never happened anywhere I've worked. In your average office, the HR dept. gets in X resumes for a position, and immediately dumps those without a degree, if a degree was specified in the ad. You don't even get to the interview, unless you know someone.

My husband didn't finish college, and the only way he gets office jobs is by temping first, then getting an offer. But he doesn't get offered as much as those with degrees, generally speaking.
posted by emjaybee at 12:01 PM on December 3, 2008


I don't want a bunch of apathetic, uneducated people making up the masses.

Well shit, guess I'll just go and off myself then — wouldn't want to ruin your fucking view or anything.
posted by enn at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm still a bit hazy on how those securities would be used to pay for things,

Donors give securities directly because the donation priced at the current market value of the security, rather than the one the donor purchased them at, so the tax deduction is higher.

It works like this. Say you purchase Microsoft at $10/share and they're now valued at $100/share. You can sell those shares, pay capital gains taxes on the $90 of gains, and then donate that $100, offsetting those capital gains taxes you just paid (as well as $10 more). Or you can simply not sell those shares and donate the shares to a tax-deductible institution. Now you can deduct $100 from taxes you paid elsewhere (like gains on securities you sold for personal reasons). Then the university can sell those securities right away, and they face no taxes on the sale of those securities at all, and they use the cash from that sale to pay for things.

Even better: the owner of the shares "donates" those shares to his own charitable foundation, and he takes the deduction of the full value of the shares to offset taxes elsewhere on his 1040. The foundation sells the shares, pocketing the capital gains tax-free. Then the cash is donated to whatever cause the foundation sees fit. Oh, also, the foundation pays its owner a small stipend (a percentage of its total assets) to manage its assets.
posted by deanc at 12:11 PM on December 3, 2008


At Harvard, students from families making less than $60,000 annually go there for nothing. Even moderately well-off families get at least some financial aid. Only the extremely rich pay full price at Harvard, and they're the only ones who can legitimately complain any increase in tuition, because they're the only ones who feel the full effect of such increases.

Won't somebody think of the extremely rich?
posted by oaf at 12:16 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


At Harvard, students from families making less than $60,000 annually go there for nothing.

It's harvard, you can't use that as a legitimate example, it's obviously an outlier. Most students who get in are either extremely smart, extremely insane, extremely rich or some combination of those three.
posted by symbollocks at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2008


you can't use that as a legitimate example

Tell that to the politicians who use it as an example every time this comes up.
posted by oaf at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2008


symbollocks, I agree that there's more than one way to educate yourself. I'm not advocating mandatory higher education, but I would happily have my tax dollars go towards making higher education available for those that want it.

As for giving you the cash directly to use, I'd hesitate. Grants like this do exist (albeit few and far between), but it seems to easy to abuse for me to agree tax dollars should fund it. At least colleges have some sort of benchmark (attendance/test scores) and can dismiss the person if they stop applying themselves.

enn, being a bit senstive, aren't you? Can I assume you agree we shouldn't have an uneducated mass making up the general population, but think my argument for offering higher education is too high a bar, or should we just abandon all public education entirely? Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel higher education helps steer people to be productive members of society. It's not the only way, and it's definitely not a guarantee, but having a higher general level of education across the entire society seems like a worthy cause.
posted by ShadowCrash at 12:43 PM on December 3, 2008


Hand a college 10k and it disappears up in smoke, not even enough for room and board for a student. Centralization is inefficient like that.

This simply wasn't true for me. I got $10k and more from my college (per year), and couldn't have afforded it otherwise. In fact, the very expensive private college I went to cost me less than my state U. would have, because state U. couldn't offer me any financial aid - I would've had to do it all on loans and/or outside scholarships and working a lot. (I did have a work-study job in college, and worked fulltime during breaks.)

I love learning, but I hate school.


Also not true for me. I love learning, loved school, and that's where I learn best.
posted by rtha at 12:46 PM on December 3, 2008


At least colleges have some sort of benchmark (attendance/test scores) and can dismiss the person if they stop applying themselves.

My point was that it matters how people apply themselves, and what they apply themselves at.

What is most worth investing in? Ensuring a person's financial security in a malfunctioning society? or building a new society where people don't have to worry as much about their financial security?

I love learning, loved school, and that's where I learn best.

Are you sure? Have you ever learned something, intentionally, outside of school? Also, think about what you're saying. Would you really have a hard time learning if you didn't have a teacher constantly telling you what to do next? Is this where we're at as a society? I guess Huxley was right:

"Within the next generation I believe that the world's leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience."
posted by symbollocks at 1:09 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


My husband didn't finish college, and the only way he gets office jobs is by temping first, then getting an offer. But he doesn't get offered as much as those with degrees, generally speaking.

I'm sure it depends on what you do for a living. I didn't finish college either, and I've never had a problem getting work. But I'm a web designer and a creative director - I got by on my portfolio. I know a number of other people who have had the same experiences I have. I'm just saying that while it can be tough, not having a degree isn't automatically the end of the world.
posted by katillathehun at 1:10 PM on December 3, 2008


enn, being a bit senstive, aren't you? Can I assume you agree we shouldn't have an uneducated mass making up the general population, but think my argument for offering higher education is too high a bar, or should we just abandon all public education entirely?

I'm not sure what you mean by "too high a bar" here. I certainly don't agree that everyone needs to go to college so that they can enter the promised land of the fetishized office job, and I resent that the well-meaning upper-middle-class educated administrators of this country (mine, anyway — I don't know where you are) have spent the last 50 years gutting vocational education at the secondary and post-secondary levels (the vacuous "Certificates in Management and Marketing" and the like that they grudgingly offer as purported career training at my local community college notwithstanding) out of a belief that the problem with the world is that everyone isn't more like them. What exactly do you imagine your utopian majority-university-educated society would look like? Dubai, with all the laborers and tradesmen coming from overseas and living in cloistered company dormitories where nobody has to look at them?

What's so offensive to you about someone who would rather learn a trade or skill or run a family business than study the liberal arts (or the hard sciences or mathematics) that you want to expunge him or her from the country? In what way does that person fail to be a sufficiently productive member of society for you?

You seem to impute a sort of Palinite incuriosity and revelry in one's own ignorance to anyone who chooses to forego higher education. That's inconsistent with my experience.
posted by enn at 1:28 PM on December 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


In other words, (higher) education is not a clear enough lens with which to judge someone, certainly not a mass of people.

should we just abandon all public education entirely?

Eventually, hell yeah. Once it's function as a (rather indoctrinaire) day care for parents is unnecessary. That is, when the parents in most communities figure out what the point of compulsory schooling really is and organize functioning alternatives. Need an example? Ask my friends how they educate their daughter.
posted by symbollocks at 1:45 PM on December 3, 2008


Would you really have a hard time learning if you didn't have a teacher constantly telling you what to do next?

Generally, I don't think I would have been able to learn calculus as well as I did without the aid of a highly knowledgeable, highly demanding teacher who was really good at explaining concepts and presenting us with problems that helped us understand the material.

I'm pretty good at teaching myself stuff I need to know, but there are many circumstances in which enrolling in a class to learn the needed material is a good idea. In part, this is because under many circumstances, you don't even know what you don't know but need to know, particularly when you are young.

A state program where (young?) people could apply for funding for a project that they demonstrated commitment to and were really excited about would be really cool though.

How are they supposed to get the skills required to do the project in the first place? Or how are they even supposed to become exposed to different sorts of possible projects? Sure, maybe if you have a background or connections in that sort of area, you're all set. But one thing that formal education provides is a role as an equalizer in which someone without a social/family background in a certain field can acquire knowledge, skills, and exposure to many different fields of study.
posted by deanc at 1:47 PM on December 3, 2008


My comment was in direct response to symbollocks statement that we shouldn't offer free education to all b/c it would be used by the apathetic to put off making decisions for 4 years.

I'm advocating for free higher education for those that want it, not mandatory enrollment. If you don't want the degree, great, don't enroll. If college were free for the masses, I doubt we'd suddenly run out of laborers and tradesmen. However, if college is cost prohibitive for the middle and lower class, you're basically shutting them out of the opportunities the upper class has.

Also, not everyone who goes to college ends up in a "fetishized" office job (sounds like a fun place, though).

In many fields,
posted by ShadowCrash at 1:50 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Are you sure? Have you ever learned something, intentionally, outside of school?

Yes. And I enjoyed it.

Would you really have a hard time learning if you didn't have a teacher constantly telling you what to do next? Is this where we're at as a society?

This has not been my experience with the vast majority of teachers I have had. Only the worst ones "told me what to do next." The good ones have acted as guides, mentors, and sometimes - yes! - experts. They have gotten me interested in things that I didn't know I'd be interested in in the first place. For instance, if I hadn't heard that Professor X was such a fantastic teacher, I wouldn't have taken his class, and wouldn't have discovered that I am, in fact, interested in the Golden Age of Spain.

I'm not at all dissing outside-the-classroom learning, or learning things on one's own. But as you said, different people have different learning styles. Please respect the fact that some of us may learn better (or get more enjoyment out of) learning in a classroom-style environment. One method is not inherently superior to the other just because it works better for you.
posted by rtha at 1:57 PM on December 3, 2008


So, in other words, the facilities you mentioned aren't the attraction alone. The fancy schmancy student facilities most likely have no causal relationship with successful faculty recruitment efforts.

Except, as I tried to say before, that fancy facilities attract higher-class students, which increases alumni giving, which expands the endowment, which gets spent on facilities....
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2008


Well, if you're coming at it from the point that there should be zero public education, I doubt we'll ever reach an agreement, there's just too big of a gap.
What's so offensive to you about someone who would rather learn a trade or skill or run a family business than study?
I grew up in a blue color town, and most of the kids that didn't go to college didn't pick their career b/c they loved it. They picked it b/c they didn't see alot of other options and couldn't afford college. They thought a certain job paid pretty well, or knew someone in a union who could get them a job. What's so offensive giving them the opportunity to pursue higher education? If they wanted to go into military service, learn a trade, take off for the high seas, or anything else, more power to them, but it should be by choice.
In what way does that person fail to be a sufficiently productive member of society for you?
Like I said, higher education isn't the only way to better yourself, but it does have a pretty decent track record.
posted by ShadowCrash at 2:07 PM on December 3, 2008


Science and Engineering, NO, they are producing WAY more than enough - don't believe the "not enough High Tech Workers" hype brought to you by universities and industry that have an interest in cutting salaries, there are plenty of science and engineering PhDs. from brand name schools without a job right now. I've seen their resumes. There are too many.

Well, "Science and Engineering" is pretty broad, but when it comes to programming I don't agree. Of course, I generally only see the candidates who get through an initial HR screening, so maybe they're doing the inverse of their job and weeding out the good ones there. But the ones who do get as far as interviews, 90% or more are unqualified. I think this is where companies should step up and do more training -- unfortunately as a manager or interviewing engineer (I've been both) that's not what you're hiring for -- you have limited budget/staff availability and getting someone who requires training doesn't work.

Every place I've worked as a programmer we've had difficulty finding people, from startups to two of the biggest and well-known companies. Salary was never an issue for these considerations -- engineers aren't generally aware of that, we're just asked to evaluate the candidate's ability.

Again, I can't say they're not screening some of that out before they get to me, especially at the big companies. And I think another way to solve this, besides just getting better grads, is to have formal "schools" of training at the large companies -- to grab people who are smart but lack knowledge.

However, CS and other fields have declining enrollment, so this isn't going to get much better without some sort of change. A drop in overall college enrollment will make that even worse -- without significantly better training than companies offer now, there are few people who will be able to take these jobs. (Some can self train, but thats not the majority -- and most self-taught programmers only know the mechanical side of things, but are pretty weak on the theory of computation, which I consider more important than knowing any specific language or being able to hack something out).
posted by wildcrdj at 2:09 PM on December 3, 2008


Except, as I tried to say before, that fancy facilities attract higher-class students

I addressed that matter as well. I'm skeptical of this claim as well--not as much as for the highly dubious faculty recruitment claim, but still skeptical. University administration and marketing departments started getting out of control somewhere around 1995, earlier in some parts. I used the real estate industry comparison for a reason. The boom days, in which you could justify massive building projects like this on the flimsiest of pretexts, are over.
posted by raysmj at 2:48 PM on December 3, 2008


Meanwhile, anyone who has worked on even a great college campus in the past decade could attest to the fact that buildings there are often falling apart. (Watch out for social science building elevators! Generally speaking.)
posted by raysmj at 3:12 PM on December 3, 2008


Of Financial Capital and Human Capital: Why We're Bailing Out Wall Street While Allowing Our Schools to Get Clobbered
posted by homunculus at 3:47 PM on December 3, 2008


Just a quick observation. Backseatpilot's comment (8:45, Dec 3) points to the problem. While The Times seems concerned about these rising costs, most of the schools - including mine (CUNY) - are not. The powers that be have shown that they are thrilled with the possibilities of escalating tuition costs, which exclude working class students and students of color (who just simply aren't as "good"). Just last week, in fact, a provost at my institution expressed his relief at the "flexibility" that tuition increases would give the university in meeting its budgetary goals.

On track indeed!
posted by dskinner at 4:59 PM on December 3, 2008


If you go to the UK or Germany or Austria, you will find only a relatively small number of people getting BAs or their equivalents,

Given that in England it's around a quarter of the population, I would suggest that if the rest of your proposal is as well-thought out as your understanding of terms such as "small proportion" or your ability to do research to back up your opinions, it's not a great proposal.

Eventually, hell yeah. Once it's function as a (rather indoctrinaire) day care for parents is unnecessary. That is, when the parents in most communities figure out what the point of compulsory schooling really is and organize functioning alternatives.

We did that already. We called it "the Middle Ages".
posted by rodgerd at 5:13 PM on December 3, 2008


Oh, people, people, you don't get universities, don't you.

NYU, Columbia, Barnard, New School ... here in NYC these "fine" institutions are marginally in the business of education anymore. They're all using their assorted tax-exempt statuses to actually be all they can be as REAL ESTATE CONGLOMERATES.

NYU is one of the biggest offenders, having become the Tisch's fronts for real estate --NYU buys many buildings that one of the many Tisch-owned real estate management companies end up managing.

NYU owns most of downtown. And when I say most I mean more than half of the Village area is now owned by or has been "endowned" to NYU. High rises, store fronts, brownstones. Not all of them are dorms. Many are houses or research "centers" for their poshest administrators and professors.

Not coincidentally Tishman-Spiers now owns my rent-stabilized apartment in Stuyvesant-Town, the last bastion of affordable housing in the Village. Not coincidentally they've tried to force these buildings into market prices by renting apartments out to NYU students. Not coincidentally, rumors have been rampant that they want to "sell" this property to NYU because poor NYU just doesn't have enough space for their students in order to expand their campus.

I hate NYU deeply.

They pay TAs and adjuncts a piddling all the while they're sitting on literally a billion dollars in endowed money that they only use for .... real estate.

NYU happens to be my alma mater.
posted by liza at 5:23 PM on December 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Given that in England it's around a quarter of the population, I would suggest that if the rest of your proposal is as well-thought out as your understanding of terms such as "small proportion"

A quarter is indeed a relatively small proportion. It's small in comparison to the around three-quarters that don't. It's small in comparison to the 88% that complete secondary school. That quarter is especially a relatively small population when, from the 2002 statistics I could conveniently find, only 28% of university students are from working class backgrounds.

Put another way, 72% of UK university students are from middle class or better backgrounds. Why is it again that working class families are paying taxes to send overwhelmingly middle-class kids to universities that their own kids are far less likely to seek admission to, be admitted to, or complete if they do attend?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:31 PM on December 3, 2008


One of the greatest strokes of luck in my life was flunking out of a pricier school and having to get my degree at a state school of little reknown - after 6 1/2 years as an undergrad, I was cast out into the working world with little experience, but also little debt. My finances are currently in better shape than many people I know because of this. I'd have to say future college students should seriously consider community college and state school as first choices, especially if you do not have the grades for a free (or reduced ride), or your family cannot afford it outright. Very few schools are worth the debt burden if you don't already have a professional plan in place.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 7:37 PM on December 3, 2008


ROU, then why point out going to the UK, etc...? The rate of BA's or higher in the US population is approximately a quarter (28%, according to this business week article from 2005.
posted by ShadowCrash at 7:39 PM on December 3, 2008


I don't follow your banter.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 PM on December 3, 2008


As a senior in high school currently applying to colleges, these articles scare me to death - particularly lines like students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

I suppose I've been relying on the assumption that I will receive financial aid, but now I find myself reconsidering applying to schools whose annual tuition is roughly four times my family's income. I wish there were some sort of practical guide to applying to college if one happens to be smart, poor, and determined to avoid giant state schools.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 9:27 PM on December 3, 2008


students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

I imagine this is because students from lower-income families attend cheaper schools, which give smaller grants.
posted by grouse at 9:33 PM on December 3, 2008


punchdrunkhistory, apply to schools with need-blind admissions.
posted by rtha at 10:15 PM on December 3, 2008


See all 901 articles (at this posting) here:
posted by Eekacat at 10:52 PM on December 3, 2008


One of the reasons tuition costs have gone up significantly is because the costs of providing benefits of faculty and staff have skyrocketed. When payroll is the biggest part of your budget, and the cost of benefits averages between 40 and 50% of each employee's salary (up from the 25% range in a decade), those costs need to be covered somehow.
posted by miss tea at 4:10 AM on December 4, 2008


Put another way, 72% of UK university students are from middle class or better backgrounds. Why is it again that working class families are paying taxes to send overwhelmingly middle-class kids to universities that their own kids are far less likely to seek admission to, be admitted to, or complete if they do attend?

Well, put it this way, I'm middle-class, British and couldn't have afforded to go to university without the low tuition fees we have here, and government support through student loans. That's in part because of my family situation (not everyone banded at a particular level is living the 2.4 kids, two cars and a labrador lifestyle), in part because I had a twin brother going through uni at the same time and in part because 'class' as an accurate measure of what you can actually afford is increasingly meaningless in the UK, especially when easy credit has blurred the lines for the last few years considerably.

Also, the tax system isn't a giant piggy bank with little slots for you depending on your socio-economic status. Yes, it's more than likely that tax paid by a plumber in London may well have funded part of my education, but it's also more than likely that the tax I've paid since graduating has paid for that plumber's knee operation after he busted it playing five-a-side. Or the road outside his house. Or the state school his kids go to.

My wife, who is an American and moved to the UK to be with me, was astonished when we did the sums on her going to uni here in a few year's time (by which time she'll have been resident here for three years and pay 'home' fees). A four year undergraduate degree in the UK would cost us less as a family than a single year of the course she couldn't complete at a university in Colorado because of lack of funds. And because student loans here are managed by a public body and are low-interest, deducted from pay automatically and only kick in above a certain income threshold (around £15k a year currently I think), we don't have to wait to save up for her to be able to start.

A UK college education appears to be such a good deal, even with foreign tuition fees, that Americans are flocking to get one.

Much like the US health system, I have no idea why Americans put up with this situation. Trusting in the invisible hand of the market doesn't mean asking for more when it slaps you about and rips the shirt off your back.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:19 AM on December 4, 2008


One of the reasons tuition costs have gone up significantly is because the costs of providing benefits of faculty and staff have skyrocketed.

Bullshit:

From 1986 to 2005, faculty pay grew by only a quarter of a percentage point, adjusted for inflation.

from 1976 to 2005, the number of full-time college administrators (vice presidents and deans, for example), rose by 101 percent, while the number of full-time nonfaculty professionals (in student services, development, and information technology, for example) rose by 281 percent. Over the same period, the number of full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members rose by only 17 percent.

Most telling, however, is that the number of part-time faculty members during those years rose by 214 percent. Over the past couple of decades, colleges have been replacing tenured faculty members when they retire with much less expensive nontenure-track professors, many of whom are paid by the course and do not receive health insurance. Nearly 70 percent of faculty members now work off the tenure track, either on yearly contracts or as adjuncts teaching course by course.

posted by anotherpanacea at 4:27 AM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rou, is your argument that if higher education was cheaper, the percentage of the population with degrees would remain static? You're example is that in other countries where university is cheaper (I don't know if the UK/Germany/or Austria offer completely free higher ed), the level of degrees is roughly equivalent to the level of degrees achieved in the US, so therefor cost isn't a factor in deciding if someone should get a degree.

If the cost of college has nothing to do with a person's decision to go, removing the cost will not change anything. The same people that would have gone before would still go, and the people who wouldn't have gone, won't. Since the ones going to college are the wealthy who can afford it, all we'd be doing is subsidizing the wealthy to send their kids to college.
posted by ShadowCrash at 6:29 AM on December 4, 2008


My argument is that if you want to increase access to universities, then do that, and there are more effective ways to do that than to make it free/cheap for everyone, including many families who could afford to pay for it either directly or on credit.

There is a pool of tax money currently spent on keeping tuition low for everyone, which means primarily for the relatively privileged. I think that money could be spent more effectively on primary and secondary education to enhance the possibility of university for students from families that have never gone, and on financial aid that's sensitive to need or lack thereof, and on programs to assist first-generation university students. And, to be sure, some of it still as a general appropriation to universities to keep tuition less than the full cost of attendance, just not all of it.

I'm middle-class, British and couldn't have afforded to go to university without the low tuition fees we have here, and government support through student loans.

Then you also could have afforded to go with higher tuition and need-based aid.

If you want, another way to think about this is that the cost of attending university in the UK is already high, but there's a large amount of non-need-based financial aid keeping the tuition you pay low. I just think that more of it should be need based.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:56 AM on December 4, 2008


I wish there were some sort of practical guide to applying to college if one happens to be smart, poor, and determined to avoid giant state schools.

Why are you trying to avoid giant state universities? I mean, you might be from a state whose even flagship schools are subpar, but frankly most U of X and XSU's are far better than they have any right to be.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:06 AM on December 4, 2008


Then you also could have afforded to go with higher tuition and need-based aid.

If you want, another way to think about this is that the cost of attending university in the UK is already high, but there's a large amount of non-need-based financial aid keeping the tuition you pay low. I just think that more of it should be need based.


Well, actually no, not in my case - I was stuck in the middle, where, as a family, we weren't what you'd call disadvantaged, but we certainly weren't what you'd call well-off either. Needs-based assessment primarily goes off household income, but no two households are alike in the way that income gets spent. Without low tuition fees, I genuinely couldn't have gone to university, because if my yearly fees had been ten or twenty grand, rather than a thousand a year (as they were at the time), my family wouldn't have been able to find the money, and I would have been unwilling to take on the additional debt (as it was, I had to get out student loans to subsidise my housing and food, which my family wasn't really in a position to help me out with beyond a very small stipend).

I take your point on pushing money into primary and secondary education, but I vehemently disagree with this whole "the working classes are subsidising the beourgious entrenchment of their own advantages" subtext to the whole thing. Taxation is collective, not based on class or physical proximity. I recieved support from the government in the form of low tuition fees and low-interest loans (which I'll be paying off for, oh, another five or so years I'd say). In return, I'll pay a whole heck of a lot of tax.

Tertiary education shouldn't be defunded to pay for primary and secondary education. We should be getting the money for doing that by spending less money on stupid shit like ID cards. How many quality teachers would £19Bn pay for?
posted by Happy Dave at 7:16 AM on December 4, 2008


There are three steps to rectifying this situation.

First: envision college purely as a place of knowledge and learning, not a societal obligation, a rite of passage, a social event, or a statement on class. There's a lot of baggage around college in our society that has nothing to do with its stated purpose. Allow people to be productive, independent members of society after high school without the expectation that they spend the next 5 years of their life in a walled garden in order to get an acceptable job.

Second: Have state universities put all of their coursework and video/audio/slideshow lectures online under an open license, and ensure that school libraries are open and available for public access. Have public computer terminals available to the public who may not have access to computers otherwise to use the online coursework. Make it so that if anyone wants to learn, they can learn at little cost to them. Some schools like MIT have already started doing this kind of thing.

Third: Offer a grading and scoring service for the online coursework "at cost." Individuals can register with the school, and when prompted by online coursework, get access to test-taking facilities at the school (such as when taking the SAT or professional certifications) or turn in coursework that will be graded by a teacher. Diligent use of the class materials and access to those facilities could result in a genuine degree from a state university at a fraction of the price of the college experience.

Individuals who want to attend classes in person, get individualized instruction and tutoring, live in dorms, play sports, go to frat parties, etc. can still go to school at the ridiculous, exorbitant prices that school costs these days. But we should make it so that anyone can "grab on" to knowledge by making the fundamentals -- learning materials and guides -- free of charge and easily available to the public.
posted by eschatfische at 8:33 AM on December 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Needs-based assessment primarily goes off household income

This is not a requirement imposed by the almighty, or inherently in the nature of need-based aid.

Look, I have no real objection to using some state funds to keep tuition lower than actual costs. It's just that when I saw people earlier writing COLLEGE SHOULD BE FREE FOR EVERYONE, my immediate thought is that it won't be free for everyone, it will only be free for the people who actually go. Many of whose families can afford to pay the current sticker price at Big State U -- in 2007, in 31 states average in-state tuition was less than $6000/year.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:39 AM on December 4, 2008


eschatfische, I like your plan, but if enough people opt out of going the traditional route and instead take the low cost alternative, the system breaks down b/c there's not enough tuition to pay the cost of the lecture halls and professors. Maybe we never reach that point, but if we do, then what?
posted by ShadowCrash at 9:11 AM on December 4, 2008


« Older The Art of the Title Sequence...  |  "Some day we'll find it, the ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments