The good news is that we have the tools in our toolbox; the nation’s higher education system can be reformed
The larger problem – and the root source of the student loan crisis – is the high cost of attending college and obtaining a degree. With tuition, room, board, books, and mandatory fees all increasing annually, the rising cost of attending college has been exceeding the rate of inflation for decades that, without huge loans, puts a college degree beyond the reach of most families. Parents, politicians, and even patrons of higher education want to know why and, more importantly, what can be done to reduce the cost of college or even slow the rate of annual increases.
For the nation’s 1,600-plus public institutions, the chief culprit has been major reductions in state support; public investment in higher education has been in retreat in the states since about 1980, according to the American Council on Education. State funding and subsidies were cut by more than $7 billion between 2008 and 2018. What many call the “privatization of public higher education” has shifted most of the states’ share of instructional costs to students and their families, with disruptive results for both students and institutions.
Other culprits that add to students’ costs in private and public universities are the rapidly increasing number of million-dollar-plus salaries for presidents and many senior administrators. Multi-million dollar salaries for coaches and salaries for assistant coaches that are double and triple the salaries of faculty members are increasingly common and seemingly “acceptable.”
Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, describes university administrations as “too large and redundant.” Duplicative and redundant specialized high-cost degree programs dot campuses across every state. One of many examples is the number of public university law schools. My own state, Ohio, has six public university law schools in addition to three based in private universities. Costly state higher education systems’ offices, many employing several hundred non-academic, non-teaching staff, add substantially to student costs. Some states like Texas and California have several systems offices adding even more to the bottom line for students as well as taxpayers.
Growth in the size of administration – what some call “administrative bloat”- has also added substantially to payday loans Kansas the high costs for students
Opportunities for reducing costs through greater use of advanced teaching and learning technologies are being quietly and strategically avoided, something I’ve observed over the past few decades as new technologies have become available. Scholarly articles on faculty resistance to on-line teaching can be found in nearly every disciplines’ publications. Likewise, opportunities for cost-cutting collaboration with other institutions are often rejected in favor of campus independence and autonomy. High-cost, non-academic campus amenities such as free movie theaters, climbing walls, swimming pools in residence halls, bowling alleys, hot tubs and more, designed to attract student enrollments, add even more to the price tag, with the costs passed on to students and their families. Mandatory fees for a host of activities and services add significantly to the bottom line even when students haven’t requested, do not want, or do not use these added “benefits.”
We are long overdue for genuine, transformative reform. The critical part of solving the problem is knowing where to look for solutions – for far too long, we’ve been looking in all the wrong places. But one thing has become increasingly clear: solutions to the high cost of higher education and the student loan crisis will not come from the higher education establishment. Our colleges and universities, their presidents, boards of trustees, state higher education systems, and the dozen or more higher education associations in Washington, D.C., have serious conflicts of interest on this issue and will not be the source of cost-cutting reforms.