Why Federal College Ratings Won’t Rein In Tuition

An ambitious plan to create a better-informed marketplace for education doesn’t take into account how public universities are funded.

Comments: 143

  1. Of all the articles I have read regarding college tuition lately, I never read about alternatives to college. Fifty years ago, when we had a far more egalitarian society, a small fraction of the population had college degrees; after high school people went into trades or learned another tangible skill that society needed. These jobs were often well paid middle class jobs. People often learned on the job and fine tuned the skills they need throughout their career by working. They did not spend a life savings on a dead end education. College fifty years ago was reserved for those in academia and those pursuing professional careers such as physicians and lawyers.
    My argument is that college does not equal a more informed citizen or more prepared workforce. The vast majority of population should learn a specific in demand skill after high school and there should be greater partnership with employers for paid apprenticeship programs. With an increased number of college graduates we should be seeing a highly engaged electorate, highly motivated, highly skilled workforce. Rather we often see the opposite. College is more of a right of passage to adulthood, than a ticket to a high paying job. Although, the unemployment rate is lower for college graduates, its only because college graduates often take unskilled jobs that otherwise would be taken by an unskilled High School Graduate. Overall, the economy and wage gap has worsened even though more people are college educated.

  2. You make a number of important points, but, since most people (perhaps unwisely) are going to go to college, so does the author of this article.

    Unfortunately, (given the politics in most states) what we need is a political solution. Public colleges and community colleges need more state support. And, university administrators need to quit using every new dollar they collect to grow their bloated administrations. Enough of the Assistant Assistant Vice-Associate Presidents!

  3. I hope you are not arguing for a less educated population. There are multiple aims in going to college including providing a more informed population in addition to learning job skills. Students learn a lot more than just background for the job force.

    Further, in developing jobs skills, having a bachelor's degree is usually insufficient for most jobs so that further education (a master's or even a doctorate) is required.

    I don't think that going back to the education status of 50 years ago is going to solve the problem of high structural unemployment or of frustrated aspirations. Rather, I think we need to continue to increase the educational level of the population to provide a true, 21st century level. The real problem is that States have not been willing to finance higher education to the extent that they used, and that needs to change.

  4. Besides what what Russ and MVT say, face facts, the type of skilled jobs and apprenticeships are not there. We have given away good manufacturing jobs to countries with cheaper labor costa. What we have is a growth in a lower-paid service economy that has stagnant wages, even for jobs that are essential to our economy. I am thinking of services for our aging population for one. Home health aides are not even covered by minimum wage laws!

    Jobs such as those in law enforcement often require at least two years of college when one goes on a local police force. Those who rise to the upper ranks often have BAs. Other forces such as the FBI require 4 year degrees.

    So our economy is pushing people, who might be happier in not going to college, through the doors of educational institutions. I do not think this is entirely a negative thing. Depending on the classes taken, post-high school education would only help police officers, for example,to be more sensitive to those they serve.

  5. Demographic shifts and the decline of the middle class will force some private, non-exclusive colleges to close and still others to consolidate with each other, particularly in the northeast. Right now, there is a significant oversupply in the non-profit, private-college sector, so these closures and consolidations will work to support tuition increases for the surviving schools as market forces achieve equilibrium in the long-term, thus eliminating the need for a ratings system.

  6. At major research universities endowments can sometimes be used towards student costs, but research grants and teaching hospital revenues cannot (although research grants may help graduate student tuition). And even many endowments are targeted at things other than student costs, as specified by many donors.

  7. This is not exactly correct. Research universities get federal research grants, and these come in two parts, "direct costs" and "indirect costs". The direct costs go to the researcher, and the indirect costs go to the university. At some universities, the indirect costs are roughly equal to the direct costs (that is, when the researcher gets $200,000, the university may also get an additional $200,000). In principle, the indirect costs are to be used to support the researchers in question, but in practice the universities can use them for other things.

  8. In practice, the indirect cost recovery is used to pay part of the electric bill, the water bill, and salaries for employees providing essential services that support researchers, like custodians and the payroll staff.

  9. This is a common misunderstanding. Funds in federal research grants for "indirect costs" do indeed come without strings, and could be spent on anything. But the indirect cost rate is set at each university by measuring the average historical costs of supporting federal research, after removing the costs the feds directly pay for, and the rate is carefully audited. So a university could divert the funds this year to replace tuition and support students, but that is a very short term strategy, since the result of cutting research support will be a drop in the indirect rate and less money in the "indirect cost" category in future years.

  10. I am not sure of the source of Ms. Dynarski data, but in checking her data against available data from other sources she vastly underestimates the reduction in funding for Research Universities. Using her University for an example; in 1988-89 the University of Michigan had tuition revenue of $6591 and State appropriation of $6879 per student(Source, Higher Education Revenue and Expenditures, Research Associates of Washington). Adjusting for inflation using the Higher Education Price Index for the intervening twenty-five year results in an equivalent appropriation of $16,165 and in tuition of $15,488 for a total revenue per student of $31,653. The actual appropriation was $6,506 for fiscal year 2013-2014(Senate Fiscal Agency, Michigan). Tuition at the University of Michigan is different depending major and lower or upper division students, but it is about $8,000 per in-state student. Therefore the University of Michigan actual revenue per in-state student is presently about $14,506 for a cut of about $17,000 per student. The politicians have drastically reduced state appropriations for higher education and then blame the universities for increased tuition. Unfair!

  11. Since I am now in my third year of writing tuition checks for our out of state student at UMich, I would suggest that the University and the state have simply decided to dump the financial burden on out of state parents. Tuition and fees for out of state parents have increased dramatically more than for in state parents. No one ever talks about how public institutions would cease to be viable without the out of state students. And it is the out is state students whose tuition has become unreasonably high . In state tuition is ridiculously cheap pretty much everywhere.

    Raise in state tuition rates and reduce out of state tuition rates.

  12. It has been clear for years that we need a MASSIVE infusion of taxpayer cash into public education at all levels.. From college all the way down to pre-K! Western Europe has eclipsed the US as having an educational system that is the envy of the world. They can actually afford to attend school.

    Education is a public good that makes life better for everyone. Too bad this country is taught that as long as "I got mine," we don't need to worry about helping put other parents' kids through college. How about we start with cutting subsidies to the super-bloated armaments industry?

  13. But at the K-12 level, we actually spend much more than Europe. You can search every town and city in that continent, and not find anything like the $21K per student spent in Newark, or the $28K spent in Washington DC.

  14. President Obama announced his college scorecard initiative at the University of Buffalo on 22 Aug 2013. A reading of the official transcript of that speech shows that his objective for the college scorecard was not to actually reduce college costs per se but rather to provide measures of colleges’ relative abilities to deliver value for money – he used the term ‘bang for the buck’ and said its objective was ‘making sure that families and taxpayers are getting what we pay for.’

    One approach that’s been developed for the college scorecard shows how colleges can be meaningfully and usefully compared on the basis of this criterion, in the context of both 1. a resource for college intenders’ use in identifying their best-match/best-fit colleges and 2. a separate accountability measure for the administration’s possible use in rewarding and penalizing colleges.

    Importantly, in addition to meeting all of the President’s own objectives for the college scorecard, this approach also meets ALL of the objections that the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) and other lobbying organizations and special interest groups have leveled against it.

    You can review this innovative proposal here:


    The transcript of the President's Buffalo speech is available here:

  15. A federal system of transparency and accoutability is critical. But cost is not the most important reason.

    As the author notes, "..Economic theory predicts... INFORMED [my emphasis] consumers will choose the cheapest option that meets their needs..."

    Almost by definition, students (also, incorrectly, known as "consumers") are not "informed".

    As the famous sociologist David Riesman noted in his seminal "On Higher Education: The Academic Enterprise in an Era of Rising Student Consumerism" (1980),

    "...the “wants” of students to which competing institutions, departments, and individual faculty members cater are quite different from the “needs” of students…”

    Riesman further noted that,

    “…advantage can...be taken of [students] by unscrupulous instructors and institutions...[and] those who speak in [the student estate's] name are not always its friends...”

    In other words, students aren't "informed" and shouldn't be considered "consumers".

    So, as Riesman, and Clark Kerr, recommended decades ago, we need government oversight and regulation in order to ensure a good education for our young people. That's the only way, as jefferson well knew, that we will be able to ensure a good society for them.

    (A final comment. I have spent 30 years in higher education, and it has become worse since Riesman's day, believe me - even at so-called "elite" schools.)

  16. Why does this have to be a government function? Why couldn't you start a USNews-style rating of the value of educatonal institutions?

  17. I'm afraid that only the government could enforce transparency, and enforce accountabiity.

    Colleges are excellent at hiding how they operate. They are very complex entities. They will rarely tell you how they operate, or what their outcomes are. Though some are ok, I would not trust any of their figures.

    Unfortunately, only an informed and demanding citizenry could push the government into doing this fairly. That is because a trillion dollars in student loans, billions in construction contracts, and billions in investable endowment funds, make for a politically powerful entity.

  18. As long as American society demands a college education, colleges and universities -- public and private -- will be able to charge whatever they want. It's only when students and parents begin to realize that college isn't for everyone, and we come to accept that there are many paths to success and a rewarding life, will higher ed come under market forces.

  19. In order to make any money in a job today a 4-year degree is necessary. In many fields, you can't rise to a management level until you have at least a Master's degree. People can't make a living wage in jobs that don't require a degree since we decided to off-shore and/or mechanize manufacturing, haven't you heard?

  20. @Wendy - Maybe you have heard of plumbers, electricians, welders, truck drivers? These are all jobs that pay well.

  21. The President's initiative to rate colleges isn't intended to reduce cost, although that may be one impact of the initiative. The broader objective is to foster debate at federal and state level of the level of funding we are committing to post secondary education. As the article illustrates the vast majority of students attend public universities and colleges and the rising costs, and by extension debt levels, students are incurring is a direct consequence of shrinking public support for education.

    Most states have huge debt loads primarily from retirement and pension plans for state employees. In some states it is constitutionally impossible to reduce or modify these crushing debt burdens. The discussion necessary at the level of state legislatures is how to rebalance and prioritize state finances to foster investment the most important "infrastructure" the next generation If the next generation is to effectively compete in an increasingly better educated world and lessen the wide gulf in domestic incomes, then investment in public education all levels is the key.

  22. I agreed with your argument until you got to the part about rebalancing and reprioritizing. How about telling the tax payers the truth - that public education, including college education, is a public good and if we want good colleges we need to pay for them through our taxes. Ever since Republicans made taxes a dirty word, we have seen states go through gyrations to try to avoid using it. The result is the sorry state of education and infrastructure throughout the US that we have today.

  23. After reading this, not sure there is a cost problem and public Unis (where majority get educated). Total spending flat since 1988. Good!! Costs $11k/year. Seems about right!! Students and taxpayers split the cost equally. Reasonable!! Total 4 year cost for the student about $25K or cost of a car. Reasonable!! Student share increased from $2,700 to $5,400? We ll someone has to pay it so why not the largely upper middle class students and families that get the benefit. If they didn't pay it as tuition these same people would be paying it in taxes. The slightly higher price encourages people to finish in 4 years and take it seriously. There is no problem here.

  24. Actually, Aurther, about 60-70% of current high school grads go to college (depending on area, sex, and data source). That's quite a deeper section of out society than "largely upper middle class".

    As for increases in tuition and fees, even just a doubling since 1988 (and I am sure more than that at many campuses) makes it impossible to complete a degree in 4 years if a student tries to pay their own way with part time work, leading to more loans, more years enrolled, or more drop outs.

    Finally, many people miss the point that public universities do much more than just educate students. Benefits from research, incubating business spin-offs, hosting cultural centers, and providing major medical services go to all of us--and deserve public support and funding.

  25. Your analysis has a smidgeon of truth in it, or would have if i.e. textbooks were handed out gratis. Minimum of $5000 over four years, ranging up close to $10K. And tuition+books is a far cry from the total nut. If there were such a thing as a decent summer or part-time job, that could help a little but alas...........Realistically we're talking about 50K for the rare student who finishes in 4 years............12K annually.

    Now consider (as per a recent study), that 50% of American families would be forced into debt were they to incur a sudden expense of $400. Not a misprint--$400, not thousand. 50K for a college degree? (100K for two)? Not likely.

  26. you've fallen for their trick of hiding the costs as "fees"

  27. Layers of overpaid administrators and staff are a huge problem at state schools. The University of Connecticut out in the middle of nowhere in Storrs, CT., had a police chief who made 260K and his assistant 190K. If there were ever issues on campus the Connecticut state police are called in. Lots of layers and lots of fat.

  28. Ha, you don't want our dedicated public servants to have a living wage? Better vote to chuck our Malloy and his buddies in the state legislature. They raised taxes to pay for this, but forgot the part about cutting expenses.

  29. After leaving the Army following WWII, my wife's uncle went into banking. As a college graduate, he was much more educated than the typical banker, who had just a high school education. Fast forward to the 1970's when I went into banking. At that time virtually all branch managers had a college degree, and the hotshots were those with MBAs. Now it seems a graduate degree is almost the bare minimum for an aspiring banker. Does anyone think the banking industry is better off or better managed today than it was 70 years ago?

    At one point we worried about the military-industrial complex. Now it's the government-education complex. Federal subsidies and guarantees for loans have allowed colleges to take an increasing share of national income, with questionable results. It's not surprising the for-profit entities have gotten into the game - it's clearly where the money is.

  30. You've confused apples with oranges. The for-profit entities have found out how to game the federal loan guarantee system (at the ultimate expense of the students and taxpayers). That has nothing to do with real colleges, that are not in business to rip off students. I don't know your figures, but it is no surprise that a large increase in the percentage of young people who go to real college has led to colleges (as a group) collecting a larger share of national income. As for the "questionable results", well, any fool can question but not everyone can answer. Is your "questionability" based on serious analysis? Test scores and graduation rates are not the whole truth.

  31. "A hastily executed system that relies on faulty data and ill-conceived measures will be not a proud legacy of this administration but a lasting liability." actually, this is the defining characteristic of nearly every action taken taken by the current administration.

  32. Own up to it, "naive": One of the several regrettable ways they have followed the example set by G.W. Bush. But Bush didn't find a way to save costs in medical care. Obama did (by adopting the Republican plan).

  33. There are ways around the debilitating costs of attending a four-year college.

    For instance, many colleges and universities have a school of continuing education ("night school" for us old folk) that, while offering a limited selection of degrees, can at least help defray the cost of taking general education courses. And they typically do so at a fraction of the cost of attending as a full-time student during the day.

    Students may have to be a little more creative in figuring out how to get their degree, and be willing to accept a less than typical "college experience," but if you achieve your goal, does that really matter?

  34. This shifting of costs from taxpayers to students is no surprise to anyone who works in public education. The same shift is subtly taking place in K-12 schools where fees are increasingly levied for athletics, registration in AP courses, textbooks and materials of instruction, busing, etc. No politician wants to state the obvious: the costs are being shifted to students because we are afraid to tell you that we need to raise your taxes to cover the costs of educating the next generation, especially the disadvantaged and minority students. Instead of asking taxpayers to cover the costs, the political "leaders" are developing ranking systems for schools that provide parents and students with "consumer information" so they can make "an informed choice". We used to view schooling as a community's responsibility. Now we view it as a commodity that K-12 parents can "buy" and post-secondary students can acquire with a loan.

  35. Universities and many colleges are already evaluated by national systems of accreditation managed by regional organizations that are independent of the institutions they report on. The final results are generally made public and the cost of not receiving accreditation can mean closure. This is in the US tradition of relying on the voluntary non profit national or regional group, similar for example to the United States Pharmacopeial Convention that dates back to the last century which gives the standards for drugs. I doubt if Obama understands this system of academic accreditation already in place.

  36. Few Americans do understand it. Not that it's perfect, but the pressure to maintain standards is real. I've seen it at my college.

  37. Thank you. We have been trying to make this argument for years and it has fallen on deaf ears in both the legislature and the administration (Governor's office and state university system). This cost shift, from the taxpayer to the student, has forced students to take out loans to make up the difference. Hence, the student loan debt explosion. It is a generational disgrace that baby boomers should be ashamed of. Moreover, it is producing a demand side economic burden that is affecting the entire nation i.e. students paying loans can't buy cars, or even afford rent.

    Consider that the proposed rating system will actually INCREASE costs because it requires extensive data accumulation, analysis and recording by the colleges. DATA IS NOT FREE. The rating system should be called the Administrator's Full Employment Act. It is based on the mistaken notion that colleges waste huge amounts of money and this will make them more efficient. Instead, it is forcing public universities into the Wal Mart mode: Cheapen the product, that lowers the quality of education and produces student who are underprepared for the work force and less competitive with their international counterparts. It is not just wrong, it is wrong headed. As the column states, it distracts us from the real calling, which is advocating for the best, most affordable college education possible. That rekindles the American Dream for our children.

  38. Yay! AFEA -- the coming wave in college! Not that it's exactly new; the inflation of numbers of administrators compared to teaching faculty has been going on for a few decades. One way it's paid for is by hiring fewer professors and more minimum-wage* adjuncts without offices.

    Not the federal or state minimum wage. Due to the way hours of work are counted (class preparation and grading tests and homework don't show up in official work hours), the pay can be less than the official minimum.

  39. Can I nominate Mr. Coffin for president? At least for as long as he repeats this speech verbatim...(If he changes one word of it, all bets are off.)

  40. Well said. Data is not free, and this initiative will only increase costs to cash-strapped universities.

  41. Looking only at tuition allows colleges to play a shell game of loading the other expenses. This potential shell game renders the author's analysis and that of the government, if they look at stated tuition alone, all but useless.

    Tuition at public schools is small compared with the full cost of attending.

    UW Madison in-state student pays $10,400 tuition. With expenses she pays $24,466. X 4 years is almost $100,000, not about $40,000 for 4 years.

    SUNY Binghamton instate tuition is $6,170. With expenses: $22,543. Tuition alone is about $24,000 for 4 years. With expenses = $90,000

    U Mich Ann Arbor (the author's own institution): Lower division tuition is $13,486, Juniors and seniors pay $15, 186; Add room and board, etc. Lower division instate balloons to $26,984 and Juniors and Seniors pay $28,684. That's closing in on $110,000 for in-state residence 4-year education.

    As long as we only look at tuition, the winding swimming pools and salaries of football coaches can rise. Those costs get pressed away from tuition and into the other expenses of the students, all of which the student must pay.

  42. At U of W in Seattle, half the students commute, most work part time and 80% graduate. Definitely cuts into party time, but also offsets the cumulative $100k cost of a 4 year degree.

  43. Students aren't required to live in residence halls in state universities after freshman year. They can move off-campus.

  44. And then there is the issue of private colleges being allowed to shift costs from scholarhip students to full paying students. One upstate NY liberal arts college where I know someone needs x number full paying parents admitted thru the admissions office to balance the books on the operating expenses.
    Scholarships should not come about because other parents pay full tuition. If a parent is paying more so someone else can pay less that is called a DONATION and ought to be tax deductible. It would be better to lower tuition for ALL and cut out filling 100% need for anything but the best students. And returning to Merit scholarships would increase the number of great students a college would seek out instead of seeking Pell Grant students and having to shift the cost to full paying parents.

  45. The value ratings should take into account rampant waste in higher education by indexing indicators of excess such as these: the athletic budget to faculty salary pool ratio, the administrator to faculty ratio, the university president pay to median faculty salary ratio, the cost per square foot of housing and the cost per square meal of dining at the university compared to the local market.

  46. Dr. Bob's suggested measures are realistic and extremely important. Dr. Bob, thanks and good luck with getting them noticed.

  47. A useful rating system needs to measure real price, bot sticker price, at non-elite private institutions, otherwise it will be misleading. The typical student at a non-elite private pays perhaps half the sticker price, making it pricewise more competitive with the community college alternatives trumpeted by the author. And what the student gets at a typical non-elite private is a lot more than they will get at a typical community college: full time salaried faculty with the highest degree in their fields, vs. poorly paid adjuncts with lower credentials. Non elite private schools catering to lower middle class and middle class students typically have graduation rates in the 60-70% range, while completion rates at community colleges are often below 20%. It is misleading--and a disservice to students--to bury these realities.

  48. "...what the student gets at a typical non-elite private is a lot more than they will get at a typical community college: full time salaried faculty with the highest degree in their fields, vs. poorly paid adjuncts with lower credentials."

    This perception is incorrect. I adjunct at both a non-elite private college and a community college in upstate NY - both rely on an equal percentage of adjuncts to teach their students (approx. 50% of faculty is adjunct at both schools). Private colleges employ adjuncts at similar rates to public colleges.

    The kicker? I'm paid $2500 per course at the state community college ($4500/year tuition) and $2200 (that's $300 less) per course at the private college ($50,000/year sticker price tuition). And yes, when you're an adjunct, $300 does matter.

    What do adjuncts have to do with tuition costs and student loans? A lot, but the main point here is that most colleges and universities have lost their way -- the focus should be on quality education in the classroom (rather than sports complexes and excess administration), and that focus has obviously been lost, along with state funding.

  49. I don't agree with this plan at all, but if it would help consumers understand that for-profit "colleges" are NOT worth the money, it could get behind it. I work with low income individuals who are often susceptible to the come-on's from these institutions, which promise them good paying jobs in fields like nursing, radiologic technology, etc. They rarely deliver, and the student is often left holding the bag for an outrageous amount of money without a job to pay it off. Community Colleges are a much better bet for these students, and maybe the rating system would make this evident.

  50. There should be zero, no, nada, zip federal education loans allowed at for-profit colleges and universities. Even at their best, they are merely diploma-mills; at their worst, you don't even get a pretty piece of paper for your tuition dollars spent and time wasted.

  51. You need to look at why the states can no longer support public education. Everyone knows that state taxes have increased substantially in the past 10 years. Property taxes have more than doubled in some states during this period, while state sales and income taxes have also gone up.

    Where has the money gone? A look at state budgets over the past ten years shows Medicaid and other health coverage rising, while higher education support is down slightly. Pension fund contributions can also be an issue.

    The state legislators know that they have little room left to raise taxes. At some point, people will start to leave in droves when they can no longer afford to pay their property and income taxes. States like New Jersey and New York are very close to this.

  52. Of course the burden of paying for a public college education has shifted from taxes to tuition (user fees). Wasn't this "the plan?" It seems to me I at least heard it as a campaign promise. (An interesting analysis might take a look at the shifts in the distribution of tax revenues on a state by state basis? For instance, what percentage of the 2014 Ohio pie is dedicated to education as compared to the 1974 pie?)

    The part of the article that I find bogus is the assertion that there has not been a change in costs of higher education relative to inflation. The two areas that have driven up the personnel-centric budgets of education have been health care costs and technology. The health care story is well known and understood in any industry that has a high percentage of costs in personnel. The technology story may be less understood. For many industries technology has reduced costs. It has done the total opposite in higher education. Why? There have been almost no gains from automation in education. The ballyhooed on-line revolution has occurred at about the same level of moving the lecture to televisions in the classrooms of the 1960's.

    As for the rating system? You have to be kidding us. This is another neoliberal boondoggle brought to us by Democrats cravenly speaking the language of "free markets."

  53. 'Democrats cravenly speaking the language of "free markets."' -- you got it! But don't omit the drivers of this abjection -- the Republicans and their financiers.

  54. "Economic theory predicts that in a competitive market, informed consumers will choose the cheapest option that meets their needs. This puts competitive pressure on businesses to hold prices down."

    This theory does not hold up when the long-term future value of a purchase is viewed by consumers as more relevant than current value. The real estate market is an example. The education market, funded by loans for most people, may be another example.

    With real estate, buyers are generally reined in by consideration of their ability to make mortgage payments immediately. With education, that consideration is deferred for several years.

  55. Good to point out that "economic theory" is not necessarily reality. This is one good example, and health care is another.

  56. The real issue in state government funding of all items except Medicaid is the continuous expansion of pension obligations. There is less money available as the state's obligations for teachers and state/municipal workers( fire,police,other) increases. Public education ( K-12 and Higher Ed), and Infrastructure spending are discretionary when compared to pension obligations. I would suggest that teacher pension obligations for both K-12 and Higher Ed should be included in their budgets so that we can do true period over period comparisons.

  57. Pensions have very little if anything to do with the problem. Pensions are generally included as a "package" part of their total salary---they've paid for it up front. Meanwhile, colleges continue to rely more and more on part time (not full time professors) while administrative, building, and athletic costs continue to skyrocket. Where is the rational in paying administrators 7 figure salaries for ANY college? Meanwhile, students are captive to the unbelievibly high costs of books, tuition, even housing, and the states continue to pay much LESS now than only a few years ago. What has changed is our willingness to see the worth of working together as a community to prepare our young people for the future.

  58. "...except Medicaid"? When states have to spend 30-40% of what they spend on Medicaid, other programs are squeezed out.

    David Parish doesn't understand your comment. "...they're paid for up front" - yeah, right, the state has to deposit billions of dollars in pension funds for future expenses. This is not free money, but has to come from taxes.

  59. Well, Jonathan, it depends on the state. In our state of Texas, as a public school teacher, my retirement is paid up front as a PART OF MY SALARY. TRS is currently funded somewhere around 92%, although that may be higher now that the legislature has voted AGAIN to lower pension benefits for new teachers (we have FOUR tiers now). I can only guess that those complaining about pensions don't have any retirement of their own (we are NOT ALLOWED to get Social Security, despite many teachers having to work a second job (as in our family of two teachers) to support our family/college. With the overall low wages paid to teachers in general for their level of required training, time (yes time), and working conditions, the benefits have been the one redeeming quality to attract new teachers to the profession. You want to take that away too? I just don't get the mean-spritied attitude of so many in this society, when so many are over-valued and grossly over-paid for their contribution to society (Wall Street?). And public education at any level is NOT a true free market, because we are at the mercy of politicians misinformed voters.

  60. When it comes to taxes, they keep increasing. Then why should states not continue to increase their share to tuition? Incomes of individuals (ordinary folk) have only declined. However, unlike public schools, colleges continue in their lavish, luxurious existence, of construction and compensation comparable to private colleges !!!

  61. There's an easy way to reign in costs: Have the government refuse student loans for attending colleges whose tuition has risen more than 1.5 x the rate of inflation over the past 15, 20, or 25 years. Let the school pick the starting date. Exceptions could be granted for community colleges that lost support.

    Can't find any colleges that met this historically? Make it active beginning today.

  62. If they are allowed to use the real price, rather than the sticker price, private colleges will do quite well under this plan. While sticker price has gone up much faster than inflation, the cost to the typical middle income student has remained very close to the inflation rate.

  63. That seems like an odd solution when the basic problem the article points out is that tuition is NOT "rising" in the sense of adding revenue to really any public colleges, even when it is costing students much more. It is compensating for state funding cuts. My own institution has had flat revenue (in constant dollars) per student over the last 15 years. In that time, the state contribution has dropped from a bit over 50% to about 26% today. Some costs representing a significant amount of the budget (especially health care and energy) have risen much higher than inflation, meaning that flat revenue has resulted in net cuts to academic programs. And while we are building new residence halls, they are designed more for integrating learning into the students' living arrangements (and saving on energy) than they are for recreational enhancements.

    Student loan policies are not to blame, here. The three basic choices with regard to higher ed funding are 1) pay more in taxes, 2) pay more in tuition, or 3) cut full-time faculty as well as the capacity of the institution to support faculty and student research and innovation.

  64. Any discussion of reining in the cost of college tuition without recognizing the inflated salaries and bloated staffs of college administrations is remiss. With public University presidents making seven figures, and layers upon layers of administration that do little to educate students, it is no wonder that tuition needs to continually rise to finance such bureaucracies, regardless of taxpayer support.

  65. Amen! Plus, the pharaonic projects of these bloated university administrations need financing: new dorms, cafeterias, football stadiums, gyms, etc.

  66. If one ties the ability of a school's students to receive Federal loans to the performance of the school on some non-trivial rating system, the result would likely lead to closures, especially among proprietary schools. While that would be a good outcome for the students who would otherwise mortgage their futures to worthless degrees, ratings-based closures would also reduce capacity in higher ed more generally. Reducing capacity would be unlikely to lead to lower prices and could even help raise them.

    Prof. Dynarski has again called for a "risk-adjusted" performance ratings that benefit from the insights of "similar efforts in health care". She again has failed to provide any indication of what that means for higher ed and how it differs from the health care experience. Perhaps this is some sort of spell or incantation which, if repeated frequently enough , will bring the new standards into force from some other dimension.

    Prof. Dynarski rightly notes that legislators have decided that voters no longer wish to fund higher ed directly rather than through tuition and fees paid by students and their parents. Until that changes - or until some other magic happens -- she might better serve her readers by explaining how students and parents can reduce their tuition bills, such as through the AOTC program or something else that actually affects what parents and students will end up effectively paying for their education.

  67. Inflation has been essentially flat. What has not been flat are enormous construction and campus expansion programs, with concomitant construction costs, administration costs, staffing costs and maintenance costs. Much of this expansion is firmly rooted in competition for prestige and the relative importance of the school administration.

    The other thing that has not been flat are student loans, which is essentially a pass through from the Federal government to the schools, leaving the students on the hook to pay for this indirect aid to the schools. You want to stop the escalation of tuition, start by stopping the student loan program to private colleges. Given the lower public college tuition, loans to public college students can usually be paid back, but many loans to private college students are so large they will never be paid back in full

  68. The only result that I can see to stopping students at private schools from receiving student loans would be a mass exodus from these private schools, forcing many of the private schools to simply close down. I for one looked at several different colleges both public and private and chose to attend a small private school despite the increased cost because I felt that a small school of 1,500 students fit me better than the 20,000 student public university that was one of my other options. The benefits from a private school such as very close interaction with the faculty and smaller campus of a private school far outweighed the additional costs for me personally. If student loans removed from these institutions then many students would not have the option to pick the institution that they felt best fit them, instead would be presented with several cookie cutter options in community colleges and public universities, which neither are right for all students.

  69. Sadly much of this money is being spent on fancy building, art, sports teams and porting them back and forth), and negligible amounts on the classroom. (Maybe this isn't entirely true as science labs require piles of equipment which the humanities, math, don't.) (Want to see a first-rate public college-- try The College of NJ.. and compare the facilities to Columbia U!! We should also discuss the reprehensible treatment of adjunct professors who do not have other employment at many colleges and universities. (Certainly, only exploitation, no free market there.)

    All of this discussion is frankly stupid. Much can be taught online by the best teachers for a negligible outlay of money --- we are talking about education right now....

    BTW a degree is somewhat meaningless. It's the person not the degree. Lots of dumkopfs and bad scholars have received PhDs and earned hefty salaries and held positions of power at various institutions. (It can help if you are European.... Too bad some of these people speak unintelligible English.)

    The issue of jobs is another issue entirely. Society is going to have to accept that more and more people can be replaced by automation. Now what? Society is also going to have to things like control the cost of medical care.... !!!

  70. Great article. About the funding "paradox" that the author mentioned, a Fed/State matching grant structure could solve the puzzle. The match funding structure can be tuned to support policy objectives. For example, the states could have an incentive to improve the ratings in order to reduce their share of funding versus Federal funding.

  71. The law of unintended consequences applies here. We tell everyone that they should get a college degree; we make it possible for virtually everyone to go to college by providing loans or loan guarantees. (And the loans must be paid back; they cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.) The result: colleges and universities have an unlimited "customer base" combined with a guarantee that tuition will be paid. With unlimited demand and no risk of nonpayment, colleges have absolutely no incentive to control costs. And so the cost of a college education spirals continuously upward, far beyond the rate of inflation. We already have a crisis of student debt burden placing a major drag on the economy, and we are approaching a time when college will be unaffordable for many despite grants, loans, and loan guarantees.

    Until we straighten out the twisted economics of higher education, this problem will grow and fester.

  72. I'm all for cheaper tuition but this ignores the underlying problem of opportunity cost. I don't think a rating system addresses either issue.

    Tuition at a Community College is reasonably affordable but many students don't have the cash on hand to pay. That means student loans. Unfortunately, the federal and Dept. of Education student loan programs are only available for students taking a certain number of credits and completing their degree in a specified amount of time.

    The situation means trading hours spent working for hours spent studying. For students who can't rely on the support of their parents to pay living expenses, this is where the real financial burden of school develops. Not what tuition actually costs but all the other expenses associated with being out of the work force or working a part-time poorly paid job.

    I think we should be looking into cost of living programs designed to subsidize students.

  73. Why? University education is not a right, it is a privilege and a commodity.

  74. In the state system where I've taught for over 30 years, appropriations for higher education have been cut in half. Once the state paid 1/3, students paid 1/3, and the remaining 1/3 was defrayed by research grants and other fund raising.

    Now the state pays 1/2 of that and has shifted costs to students, parents, and institutional fund raising. Our flagship, UW Madison, now gets only ~20% of its budget from the state. Pressure on faculty to bring in research grant money has significantly increased. Research grants take faculty out of the classroom, to be replaced by low cost adjuncts.

    For 30+ years, the "business model" has increasingly taken over. Services that used to be provided in-house have been out-sourced for profit: food service, textbook rental, etc. Students get less for their money or pay more as profits are skimmed off. For example, campus ATM's were always no fee, but this fall we have a new provider: 6% fee for withdrawal of $50. Kick back to the university? Probably. Every little gouge increases cost to students.

    Decision-making power has shifted to administration, which once negotiated seriously with faculty and students. Now we have "done deals" and no sight of for profit contracts. Watching this unfold has sickened me. My faculty salary has been flat-lined vs. cost of living since around 2000. Walker's Act 10 reduced it further. I take home less than $50,000 a year. New hires make more.

    Increased costs are not faculty's fault. We too are appalled.

  75. The state universities have to base tuition on the Pell Grant value. They can't go cheaper than that to give everyone a break, because they count on that money coming in for a certain percentage of the students, otherwise tuition could be zero at state colleges. But Pell won't pay then.

    In the UMASS system, the 1/3 in your example paid for by parents goes for layers an layers of expensive bureaucracy that did not exist when today's parents were in college. And Room and Board is higher cost today, just because of the cost of living, and that is not an academic expense. At UMASS it is what makes the bill bulge.

  76. Good start on per student revenue and who pays. Its more complicated than the averages suggest because low income students often pay less and middle income students more. At the University of Washington, the Husky Promise program allows 25% of undergrads to attend tuition free, which is offset by out of state tuition, largely from Asian students.

    But the goal of the Obama rating program is not to cut tuition costs. It is to increase the utility of higher ed by standardizing metrics like graduation rates, earnings, debt and default of students. Not everyone agrees with this utilitarian approach to education. But those who are trying to improve their circumstances through higher ed could avoid being sucked into a for-profit diploma mill with disastrous life time consequences.

    I think that's what the rating system is about.

  77. Why the need to mention "Asian students?"

  78. Good question. As state funding recedes, the schools attempt to make up for it in several ways, including through students from other states and other countries. These students pay higher out of state rates and immigration rules require proof of ability to pay in advance. Where are the students coming from? Currently there is a surplus of students from east and south asia (India and China especially) relative to the number of spots open at state funded institutions in their home countries. They come here because we have excess capacity relative to our domestic student population. This is a huge fact of life for the large state schools, such as in the midwest. Go to a graduation at one of these schools and you will see it, especially in the professional schools. So a temporary surplus of "Asian students" enables state schools to make their budgets in the current environment of poor state funding.

  79. This article fails to address the root cause of rising tuition costs. Salaries and benefits for executives and increasing numbers of administrators and top-tier (not part-time) faculty have risen dramatically during the past three decades. Prior to the 1980s, most higher-ed faculty and administrators earned relatively modest middle-class salaries, and higher-ed employment was not generally a pathway to significant wealth. Since that time, colleges and universities have declared themselves to be "businesses", in order to justify exorbitant salaries and benefits as well as proliferation of the entitled administrative class. Their "business model" is based on student loans, exploiting students and their families to support higher-ed profiteers. The root cause of the problem is irresponsible state legislatures, which set salaries and benefits for public institutions and uncritically signed off on increases when times were good. To help address this problem, state legislatures could roll back salaries and administrative costs toward historic norms. And the government could get out of the student loan business, which underlies the whole problem.

  80. At all levels of education, from kindergarden on, I feel frustrated as a citizen and voter by how little I understand about exactly where the money goes, how the spending and funding breakdowns have changed over time, and how much they vary from place to place in the US and from country to country.

    We need more and better reporting than we get on this issue.

  81. Excellent comment, RC. State legislatures allowed exorbitant increases in admin salaries while dramatically cutting state support. This is the high-ed version of the Republican trickle down economy model - and just as obviously does not work.

  82. I-it's, it's like you didn't read the article! Revenue per student hasn't changed. (Partly because faculty are making a whole lot less than we used to.)

  83. "Slowing — or even better, reversing — that trend would get more people into college..."

    There are too many people in college right now. Most NYT readers went to good colleges so they are not aware of the tens of thousands of students currently enrolled in open admissions or "less competitive" institutions who are neither academically prepared nor motivated to learn. Hundreds of millions of dollars of government funds are wasted on these students, most of whom will flunk out of school (and default on government-guaranteed loans).

    How about this: free tuition to prospective students who pass real, rigorous entrance exams and who maintain good performance as freshmen and beyond. To the rest, the loafers--no more free ride on someone else's dime.

  84. Sound like an all-white-and-Asian college class. I don't know how well that would go over nowadays.

  85. Elsewhere in the Times today is an article on the lavish rec centers that many public universities are building to enhance the student experience. Is this not a large part of what is wrong with American university education? By the time you pay for the rec center and the football and basketball team what is left over for the library? And if you only hire those faculty likely to earn their salaries back in grants what becomes of the (much less expensive to run) English and history departments?

  86. Old, old, story at this point. Reducing college costs can be done in only way--by reducing competition for students. (See the recent article on water slides and wave pools at public universities here in the NYT for an explanation of why costs are rising). But limiting competition is viewed as anti-American, unpatriotic, positively socialist.

    Suggesting that excessive competition is having a negative effect on outcomes is grounds for a court-martial or worse. We are so madly in love with the free market that you can be certain that competition for students will only increase, and costs along with it.

    The attempt at trying to rank, rate and order universities--by producing better informed consumers, will accelerate competitive pressures to RAISE prices. Equivalent institutions will hold down prices only as long as both survive and can fill classes. If one dies off, the other will quickly raise prices to recoup the lost revenue from the bidding war.

    I think the reality is that most educational consumers are caught in a bind of their own making. They love the free market except when it charges them high prices. You can't have both.

  87. Colleges have ashown themselves adept at "solving for the winning solution"(as in "need fewer transfers to get a higher US News ranking?", just add to dorms, subract from educational requirements, problem solved).

    Of course, no less should be expected from institutions with smart, unscrupulous leaders, willing followers (aka faculty), and naive "customers" (once quaintly referrred to as "students").

    If the administration is going to rate colleges on "...measures like dropout rates, earnings of graduates and affordability..." , I have no doubt that many schools will easily find the "winning solution.

    Dropouts? Keep "customers" with more fun. less work and less stress. Of course, you could maintain standards (as low as they already are) and them more help from the faculty...but, then there is affordability. And many would drop out anyway.

    Earnings? That's already easy. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that in 2011 the “…median employer-based data…[of] actual starting salaries…” was $40,735. But, if you count graduates with only a part time job, or no job (but looking), it is $27,000. (See my blogpost "Median Starting Salaries for College Graduates $27,000 or $40,735?' for links to the data. It's at inside-higher-ed .)

    It's going to take a deep understanding of how colleges work before we can develop good policy. More importantly, it is going to take a lot of political will. They are powerful institutions.

  88. "Public colleges are collecting about the same revenue per student today as they were 25 years ago...In 1988, state legislatures gave their public colleges an average of $8,600 a student...by 2013, states were kicking in just $6,100."

    Isn't that really the whole problem with the price of education?

    Yet all the author could muster was a proposal for a "quiet goal" for increased funding for public colleges and a long dissertation about how the rating system won't change anything. Well just swell!

    We should be shouting that from the rooftops! Not having a "quiet" discussion about it.

    How ironic that the generation raised by the greatest generation -- that endured the Great Depression, brought us New Deal reforms, and successfully helped to fight off the Axis powers -- has turned out to be the most self-absorbed, selfish generation *Just. Can't. Be. Bothered.* to lift a finger to help the generations behind us (probably because we're too busy protecting Social Security and Medicare).

  89. Well, 25 years ago, total Medicaid spending by states was about 5% of the budget. Today is it more like 18%. The same thing is true of pensions for state workers. So taxes are higher, but the amount of money for higher education is lower.

    So what do you suggest? Tell the guy who's paying $20K a year on property taxes that he needs to pay $25K?

  90. Federal College Ratings are a waste of taxpayer money, as well as not being the solution people are looking for to keep tuition low. We had the College Board, and non profit, parents paid in for testing and they posted fairly objective and correct data about the schools, all at no cost to the taxpayer.
    Now the federal government wants to meddle in what colleges do, and it's not new, the federal loan system was where this started, but now that they have taken over the loans they want to use them as a stick to beat the carrot with. They want to tell colleges what to do, on their student selection, faculty hiring, and even to get them to change courses...like making engineering easier, so that more Kinds of kids can qualify for the programs. Especially kids that can't do math and science, they should have to help them thru a kinder gentler engineering degree.
    The Pell Grant program requires colleges to shift scholarship money away from the academically talented.

    The Boards of Colleges/Accreditors have been taken over by people with progressive social agendas, Why would an academic accrediting agency ever review "social justice" as a policy of a college campus. What does social justice have to do with getting into college and studying math? They force it as a metaphor for everything.
    The feds should have no say at private colleges, and to the extent that they do and mandate things they make things MORE expensive. You Must Must Must! costs Money Money Money.

  91. You miss the point. The existing college rankings all include the quality of the entering students as a prominent factor in what makes a college good. But that has little or nothing to do, at least directly, with the quality of instruction offered at a college. That is why some variant on "risk adjusted" ratings is a good idea.

    I ran a simple analysis of the graduation rates at about 80 small four-year colleges in the Northeast. The sample did not include any "elite" institutions, but was still pretty variable. The SAT Critical Reading test correlated with graduation rates at about r = .70, explaining half the variance before the students even arrived. The correlation would be even stronger if you added in the elite schools. What is relevant, really, is whether a given college does substantially better or worse than would be predicted based on pre-existing factors. If 80% of your students "should" graduate (i.e., from a typical college), but only 60% do, you're doing a bad job. If only 40% "should" graduate, but 60% do, you're doing a good job.

  92. I believe that the "for-profits" are the target of the US government. These are fooling students into paying a great deal of very little. They also promise well paying jobs after graduation, although they have no control over that.

  93. Thank you, Prof. Dynarski, for finally writing about the real reason for the increase in attending college. All that's missing, and what most don't know, is the size of cuts. Here's data from the American Council on Education from 1980 to 2011.
    * Colorado has reduced its support for higher education by nearly 69.4 percent
    * South Carolina reduced its state investment effort in higher education by 66.8 percent
    * Rhode Island reduced state higher education funding by 62.1 percent
    * Arizona has reduced its annual state investment effort by 61.9 percent
    * Oregon reduced its state higher education investment by 61.5 percent
    * Minnesota has reduced its higher education investment by 55.8 percent
    * Virginia reduced higher education funding by 53.6 percent
    * Vermont reduced its investment by 51.3 percent
    All other states have reduced their support by anywhere from 14.8 percent to 69.4 percent between fiscal 1980 and fiscal 2011.

  94. These are virtually "token" cuts that have been completely overwhelmed by the compound growth in the gross amount of loans outstanding, as well as the annual amount of tax preferences being utilized.

  95. While the author's cautions about the effects of rankings on public institutions are justified, for states with more than one public option there may still be benefits. Even in a small state (like mine), there are substantial differences in the critical outcome (graduation rate) of the two large state universities (after taking into account factors such as students' entering academic performance and the share of students with Pell Grants). Almost no one in the state seems aware of those differences. Ironically, the institution with the better performance seems intent on emulating policies of the one with poorer performance.
    By the way, the Washington Monthly magazine has been publishing a wide range of useful rankings for a few years now. The data it uses are already available.

  96. Cuts implemented at my public college over the past couple of years seem never to affect administration. In fact, more administrators than instructors were hired during the worst of the lean years. Meanwhile, the percentage of classes taught by adjuncts, who get no health care or retirement benefits, increased to 85%. Adjuncts are the cheapest employees on campus, and they do the lion's share of the work, if one thinks of the purpose of a college or university as something called "teaching." In fact, more and more of the burden of administrative tasks are dumped on adjuncts who do not even have an office on campus. For some unscientific evidence of what is happening with public college funding, check the parking lots at your local public college. The Lexus is parked in staff parking closest to the admin building, the 15 year old pieces of junk are parked closest to the classrooms, and the new trucks and sports cars are in the student parking lot.

  97. Well, how did colleges start in the Middle Ages? A bunch of scholars got together and started teaching students for fees. There were no dorms, no administrators, no classrooms.

    So what the adjuncts should do is cut out the middleman. Get together and start teaching students directly, without any overhead. Those who really want to learn will pay. Those who just want a credential will continue to overpay.

  98. I know many adjuncts teaching at Washington State University's tricity branch campus. Mostly working at Hanford or at our lacal National Lab (PNNL) or retired from there.

    Believe me, these people are excellent, speak english as a first language and have substantial practical work experience behind them.

    This maybe atypical but much better than TAs who are barely literate in english with no work experience.

  99. Our adjuncts make about the same per hour as the kids who work the front desk at the school's rec center.

  100. "College costs have been rising for decades."

    Only because Federal, State and Local Governments have steadily pumped into the higher education system more loans, grants, and matching funds, in addition to greatly increased tax preferences and generalized encouragement for the public to take on outsized risks it can not possibly shoulder successfully.

    All this has encouraged a far larger than optimal population of students being served, i.e., a bubble. Bubbles do not end well.

    Once the media acknowledges that commodity deflation has migrated to the U.S. from the rest of the world, this bubble should also start to deflate. There will, of course be many desperate efforts to reverse this fresh trend, but the thing that always dooms bubbles to failure is their eventual expansion to that oh-so-unsustainable size.

  101. Wrong! The states have reduced their support tremendously. In Virginia, the state pays less than 20% of the costs now. In the past it was nearly 80%. For the state schools, the only hope is the US government.

  102. There are problems in using drop-out rates and earnings of graduates as indices of the worth of an educational institution. With regard to the former, we need to recognize that not everyone should be in college---they may be very good at something else for which a college degree is unnecessary. Plumbers, electricians, and auto mechanics, e.g., are high on my list of professions I highly respect and would have a hard time getting along without. Also, some people just aren't ready for college---they drop out, as they should, and may later reach the point where they see the value of an education, go back to school, and do well. Finally, the issue of high wages. I've had wonderful students who choose low-paying professions because they want to change the world for the better. They have done so as, for example, doing medical missionary work in Africa or in counseling prison inmates on how to create a better life for themselves after release. These are arguably more valuable to society than far better paying jobs like high-profile divorce lawyers and celebrity plastic surgeons.

  103. Over the years, raising the Tuition burden on public college students (and their families) has become an easy budget-fix for austerity-conscious Legislatures and Governors. It is simply no longer sustainable. Federally-insured student loans are non-dischargeable in Bankruptcy proceedings (thanks to Reagan in 1986), and such (parental-backed) student loans have become an onerous and counterproductive drag on our economy. Even a small child could connect these dots.

    Maybe it is finally time to address the need for publicly-funded post-secondary education in the evolution of our Constitutional Republic. It took us a century to reach that conclusion with regard to primary- and secondary education (Huck Finn aside), for all Americans to be guaranteed a publicly-funded education through 12th Grade. Now our Constitutional Republic needs to address the very thing which Conservative minds cannot ‘wrap themselves’ around: a changing world which adapts to the ‘needs of the market.’

  104. Administrators' share of the tuition pie, compared with the faculty's share, has been rising steadily over the last 20 years. In 1987, there was a 1:1 ratio of administrators to tenure-track faculty at R1 institutions; in 2008 there was a 2:1 ratio (see link). Even as revenue per student remains flat, less of it goes to support the educational mission of universities. I cannot imagine what other effect a 'ranking' system, as proposed by the president, will have except to strengthen the hand of administrators, who will be needed to massage the numbers.


  105. I really must learn not to intake liquids when reading articles about the federal government. I just about spit when I read the aim of the program was to "improve the quality of higher education while also bringing down costs." Sounds like healthcare and we all know how that turned out. On another note-
    How about the House's trying to pass legislation to make it illegal to close any USPS facility through 2015 regardless of financial necessity. Yes- your lawmakers do not want to worry about costs. No matter what- common sense be damned. I just read a survey from Reuters that said one out of every four Americans would like to see their state secede from the union.
    Does Washington D.C. have the internet? Do they have any idea how ridiculous they look to us? I mean really- create another layer of government and pay them with what? On the off chance they save us $20 bucks on tuition most likely our taxes will go up $200 to cover the agency. If I could afford it I would be out of here in a heart beat.

  106. Re the USPS - from the earliest times in this country post roads and postal service to all was a primary, essential federal govt responsibility. As is was for Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, Genghis Khan, etc.

    Rural areas deserve the same timely service as any. Keep in mind that the USPS delivers ~ 30% of FedEx & UPS parcels via subcontracts.

    We are doing what the faux republicans want - subsidize big business or if prevented from doing that they will violate the Constitution's mission statement (aka the Preamble) as well as the plain language about the mail found in the constitution itself. The best the GOP as currently constituted can come up with is to inflict harm on the least of its citizens.

  107. The fact is that many students should not be in college in the first place. They should be trade schools and in on the job training. When I attended Illinois in the 1960's the tuition was essentially free. We used old World War II facilities and did not complain one bit. None of the fancy dorms existed at that time. Standards were very high and Illinois did not pamper you. Jesse Jackson flunked out of Illinois after one semester since he could not handle the course load.

  108. Colleges claim revenue is flat, but they have grown their bureaucracies to eat all economies of scale. Look at these palaces for gyms we have, and tell me they have a funding problem. Why does CUNY have more "higher education officers", assistants, and aides than it does full professors?

  109. Inflation is always too much money chasing not enough goods. Prestigious universities have succeeded in restricting their enrollments (in the name of maintaining their prestige), while federal and state governments have poured more money into the system in pursuit of egalitarian access. The result is inelastic demand and the ability to charge ridiculous tuitions.

    It won't change until consumer behavior changes. Ultimately, more and more middle class families will send their kids to community colleges for two years and then MAYBE to PSU (Prestigious State University) for the upgrade to a bachelors degree.

    And governments need to focus their funding on support for vocational training and community colleges. It is laudable that all should have access to our traditional four-year universities, but it's not nearly as urgent as getting better skills into the workforce. The problems are (1) a federal government hell-bent on social engineering and (2) state legislators that are too cozy with the leadership of their flagship state universities.

    In South Texas, there are shortages of trained welders, truck drivers and oilfield workers who can make $75,000 per year with six months of vocational training and a year of apprenticeship. Spending billions of dollars so that we can create more non-employable liberal arts majors who leave school with $100,000+ of federal student loans is not a sustainable plan.

  110. I have some family members that work those jobs. They are jobs for men, mainly. Which is okay, I guess, because they are also transient jobs. Typically families live apart, so these jobs are great for the breakup of families. Housing costs are very high, both in the panhandle and South Texas towns you speak of. as are the costs for everything as prices go up when more people enter the small towns. Men with families are often paying rent in two places; but even without family, these workers have financial challenges other people don't face.

    The jobs tend to be dangerous and there is a lot of death on the job. Jobs are often subcontracted out without decent oversight, and subcontractors pay less. Benefits are often not good.

    Liberal arts majors are employable, and, frankly, if they want to become welders, they can put int hat six months of vocational training too. The difference is that they have developed other skills which transfer more easily, and they are not locked into bad situations because they don't have enough education to do anything else.

    We need to quit talking about everyone becoming electricians, truck drivers, and oilfield workers and start making decent education affordable, so people have choices and control over their lives.

  111. The top public universities are those of California, Minnesota, Washington, and Illinois, not Professor Dynarski's Michigan or Virginia. But her other remarks seem okay.

  112. How about paying coaches and administrators on the same scale we pay faculty? That'd reduce overhead by a lot.

  113. here's another little know fact: in PA, private colleges lobby AGAINST the legislature raising funding to state colleges in universities so that private colleges can stay in business.

  114. Why doesn't some reporter with one-half of a normal brain write a story about why tuition continues to skyrocket. While student loans clearly are the "gun that kills," it is the escalating pay of college administrators and tenure track professors who spend little, if any, time in the classrooms.

    Why not conduct a survey among students who are paying these outrageous increases in the cost of college and ask them how much these vastly overpaid individuals add to their college education and preparation for the real world?

  115. The article has firmly established that most of the increases in tuition are owing to reduced state support for higher education. There have been increases in administrative support, because of micromanaging by state legislatures and vastly increased reporting requirements by state and federal agencies.

    Faculty members with reduced teaching loads have federal or industrial research grants and contracts that pay for part of their salaries. It would be blatantly illegal to expend those funds in the support of undergraduate instruction.

  116. Determining the earnings of graduates would be highly problematic if calculating this metric was left up to the individual colleges and universities. Plenty of fraud would be involved like there is now with college ratings such as those in USN&WR. Consumers wouldn't believe earnings ratings determined by colleges and universities sending out surveys.

  117. This is probably an interesting debate for Europeans for whom free university education is a civil right that comes with being born. Flipping burgers is not conducive to learning.

    This is simply another way through which the 1% - the subset of the population who have profited while the middle class remained stagnant over the past 30 years - subverted the public dialogue. The way to improve education is to make companies and the undeserving rich who have been skimming off the society, pay their fair share of the tax (yes Apple, Walmart, Pfizer, Gen Electric; Blankfein, Ellison and the Waltons, I am looking at you).

  118. I wonder if a simpler solution could be to require that community college credits carry over to public universities. The tuition for Houston Community College is about a quarter of that for the University of Houston. I'll bet it's similar all over the US. And the Community Colleges usually offer most of the same undergraduate survey courses.

  119. ZAW: The credits from community colleges that are teaching real classes do carry over, the remedial courses do not, as technically, they are not college courses As a NYer and a product of CUNY community colleges and senior colleges, the community colleges take any and everyone who can give them tuition. The senior colleges are very selective as they are well regarded and want to maintain that reputation. The courses taught are at a different level due to "brighter students". The core courses at the community college sometimes will not prepare you for the electives at a senior college.

  120. There are such a confluence of issues in these comments, all of which point to the complexity of the challenges facing the approximately 3,800 nonprofit colleges and universities, their students and parents, faculty and staff, alumni, trustees, and political leaders. Having spent a more than 25 years as an administrator who, over that time, has worked with fewer and fewer resources and been asked to achieve more and more with less, I take the calls for skimming fat quite personally. I don't think anyone--neither faculty members nor staff--if asked who is expendable on their campus would be able to fire enough people to make a substantial difference to the bottom line. There are financial issues to be sure that vary from private to public but they share the singular fact that it is become much more expensive to run schools: to maintain and build facilities, to heat them and run water through them, to feed students and try to keep them safe, and then, finally, to teach, to inspire, to create new knowledge, to prepare class after class to enter some version of adulthood. The economic complexity is a critical part of the discussion; career choices and job preparation is another piece of it; the role of faculty and how its members work with an administration within the context of shared governance is another piece. I could go on and on. My point is that we should try to stick to the topic, in this case: a welcome caution to yet another set of rankings.

  121. I would like to see undergrad classes taught by full & associate professors with use of assistant profs limited. That includes overseeing chemistry & physics & engineering & nursing labs.

    Current practice of dumping undergrad students in the hands of barely english literate foreign TAs is a scandal and inexcusable.

  122. College tuitions are out of control because the federal government made student loans available. If they didn’t Universities would have had to figure out they couldn’t afford the layers of unproductive professors, assistant professors, 5 people where they need 1. Building unnecessary buildings, gyms, out of control President salaries etc...
    Increasing tuition to cover these out of control costs pushing them on to students is just wrong.

  123. It's indeed quite likely the administration will screw this up and create all manner of unintended consequences. For example, when comparing proprietary institutions to community colleges, the author asserts that community colleges are the better option because they're cheaper for the student. But that doesn't take into account taxes that community colleges receive or taxes that for-profit institutions pay. The real question is what kind of structure and operation can provide the best educational ROI for the largest number of students. I think the answer looks more like online classes with a no-frills and conveniently located classroom building with adjunct professors and less like an inefficient and bureaucratic college campus with full-time professors. This model was pioneered by for-profits, and public institutions and politicians would do well to learn from it rather than villanize it.

  124. I hope recommendations will look at the following integrated approaches. AP classes in HSs - my step daughter had sophmore standing when she started college due to AP.

    Start at the local community college and live at home - builds up credits and saves money. Work part time where possible and save half starting when paid work is possible.

    Xfer to four year or university. Go for big bucks & loans for graduate school.

    Join the military after junior college, learn useful skills and use military funding for university or post grad. Avoid loans at all costs or minimize them.

    Parents - do not cosign any loan documents ever.

  125. Yes - 10% alternative minimum tax on gross income.

  126. Check professional societies - they keep track of stats or starting, average & top pay across the country & by industry.

  127. As a former member of an auxiliary board of a graduate college within a state university I urge you to consider the following.
    Compare the difference in increased administrative costs over the last twenty or thirty years, especially compared to the change in teaching costs per student. It seems that each administrative change, especially at the top, comes with higher salary and with increases in assistants, secretaries,office space etc.
    Compare the frequency of conferences, especially those that take place in fancy resorts, preferably with golf courses.
    Twenty or thirty years ago overseas travel by the president of the college was rare, generally for public purpose or sponsored and paid for by a public interest organization. Recently these trips have become frequent, often including family, and appear to have no compelling relationship to the educational needs of the students.
    Board function, which is largely related to fund raising, when successful usually results in further decrease in state contribution to the school budget.
    Public relation firms are hired with institution funds that seen to me to have value only in publicity for the chief officers of the college.
    Consultants are hired without thought of cost/benefit; I was once asked to attend a meeting with a consultant; the purpose of which was to discuss the color of the paint for the lobby.
    M. Forman

  128. And plumbers, electricians, appliance repairs, automechanics, etc. all perfectly good professions.

  129. Yeah that's a dumb idea....I think the only way to slow down the rise in college cost are with some type of cost controls. Otherwise if you have a "college marketplace" per se then those people who attend a college with reduced admission will see their tuitions skyrocket!!

  130. The US college system is insane. State colleges should be totally free paid by taxes. Just like all the other civilized western countries do. Education is the most important thing in building a functional society and US is failing bad. Note that in Europe they don't provided academical education to everybody, just about the top 20% of high school students get accepted into universities that provide masters / ph.d., about 30% get into lower class colleges that provide only US equivalent of bachelors. The rest go to vocational schools providing training for certain professions. But all these are "free", i.e. paid out of taxes.

  131. Administrative costs cannot simply be cut by slashing jobs. It's not as if someone is brainstorming pork to shove in the barrel - these jobs grow when the need for support functions increase (and, yes, when someone decides all would be easier with another secretary). This can happen due to a variety of regulations, service concerns like campus safety and health (that increase in scope and complexity with city-sized student bodies), and yes, lack of rigorous re-evaluation. Meanwhile, funding is decreasing and debt is skyrocketing.

    There is one crucial step in a ratings system that would do wonders to arrest bad debt and wasted funding, as well as the common issue of students having "no clue" how hireable they will be - a simple, compulsory welcome pamphlet including a summary of job prospects in your field and your university's rating. We can no longer afford to pretend that's not why kids are going to college.

    "Buyer beware" doesn't exempt restaurants from keeping clean kitchens and proving it; that we can even pretend a discussion about the "consumer's responsibility" exempts universities from honesty about career prospects is beyond me. The common debate of what students "deserve" has usurped the useful debate over what's better for society. The obvious answer is "more informed students." Legislate that. Perhaps marketing would be less of a panacea for boosted admissions, public awareness of the cost and return would aid state funding, and degree mills would wane.

  132. Thank you for clearly and concisely stating what is the 'root' cause of rising tuition. Americans seem to short-sighted to understand 'lower taxes' means 'less of something' and that less for many families is seen in the cost to families for college.

  133. I'm very skeptical of the claim that state universities are collecting about the same as 25 years ago.

    My state university was middle of the pack some 45+ years ago. Total cost for a year in-state (tuition, room, board, books, fees) was $1,200. Adjusting for inflation it is now 3.5X that amount. During that time, the state's support has plummeted. But knowing that does not make it any more affordable!

  134. How about national exams to compare educational outcomes?

    These exam scores would be good points of comparison for different schools.

    This would help students become informed on the basic knowledge outcomes. Thus allowing informed comparisons. The other comparison methods seem non-knowledge based.

  135. The claim that inflation-adjusted state aid to Universities has been flat is dubious. The underlying data is based on the "Higher Education Cost Adjustment" (see: page 12 of FY 2013 SHEF), not any traditional measure of inflation which we use. The HECA consistently overestimates the actual rate of inflation, and further, is endogenous to the issue of University budgeting. SHEEO and the New York Times do their readers a great disservice by their dishonest approach.

  136. "That's just a 3 percent increase." Actually the increase from $11,300 to $11, 500 is less than a 1.77% increase.

  137. Actually the hope the least among us will just die off as quickly and quietly as possible. They do everything that they can to make that happen - reducing food assistance, access to medical care and housing. That is the actual outcome of current republican political policy.

    Now if you are already rich - the GOP will give you more.

  138. Well voters - majority of those who voted - supported legislators who cut university, CC, etc budgets to "avoid" raising taxes. The voters in those states have what they voted for. Hope they are happy.

  139. Federal loan program for higher education taken over by the feds and cutting banks out of their fat fees. Horrors!!! And way past due.

  140. SS as Eisenhower himself pointed out as been a magnificent program and no sane person would mess with it. Scrap the (salary) cap and move on. Medicare is also effective and works via private practice physicians & hospitals at less than 1/3 the overhead expense of the private sector even under ACA.

    As a medicare & private sector former employer subsidized medigap insurance I can attest to fine care and effective mgt.