Colleges Spend Far Less on Educating Students Than They Claim, Report Says – The Chronicle of Higher Education

April 8, 2011 at 8:50 am 8 comments

A theme we’ve talked about before here: That tuition is subsidizing research.  But now it’s coming from the Chronicle which draws more attention.

There’s an interesting implication of this finding related to the higher-education “Race to the Top” funding and President Obama’s goal of having more college graduates.  If college education is actually much cheaper than tuition would have us believe, the actual cost of generating more college graduates could be made much lower than the cost of sending more kids to college.  Could we create an alternative? Could we get more Americans educated at a college-level by avoiding colleges, perhaps creating some other institution — without research or athletics?  What would it mean culturally to set up something else that doesn’t have the “college” name but has that role?  Would we just be re-creating community colleges?

While universities routinely maintain that it costs them more to educate students than what students pay, a new report says exactly the opposite is true.

The report was released today by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, which is directed by Richard K. Vedder, an economist who is also an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a Chronicle blogger. It says student tuition payments actually subsidize university spending on things that are unrelated to classroom instruction, like research, and that universities unfairly inflate the stated cost of providing an education by counting unrelated spending into the mix of what it costs them to educate students.

“The authors find that many colleges and universities are paid more to provide an education than they spend providing one,” says a news release on the report, “Who Subsidizes Whom?”

via Colleges Spend Far Less on Educating Students Than They Claim, Report Says – Administration – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Wilson  |  April 8, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Interesting article. I believe Canadian universities spend far less on athletics than their US counterparts—it would be interesting to know if that’s part of the reason for lower tuition fees (though higher levels of gov’t subsidy probably outweigh that).

  • 2. Rob St. Amant  |  April 8, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Think tank reports like the one cited are often pretty frustrating, in that they don’t give enough information about how they got their results. For example, their Table 3 says that Education and Related Spending per student at Dartmouth is $64K, but Achievable Education and Related Spending is actually just $14K. That’s a remarkable claim. The explanation is in a footnote: “Source: Authors’ calculations.”

  • 3. Lisa  |  April 8, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    I suspect that in CS/Engineering and some areas of Math it is completely reasonable that tuition be used for teaching and not research. These fields have large amounts of private and public funding associated with them.

    But in the humanities, who are we to say that having student tuition help pay for research ( in the form of professor salary) is wrong? These areas have fewer sources of funding and to prohibit universities from using tuition dollars to fund professor research would either greatly increase the teaching load of professors or greatly reduce their salary. In either case, quality professors would likely flee to schools with large endowments or private funding sources leaving many schools with under qualified “professors” teaching students.

    I can’t see that being good for student learning.

  • 4. Mike Panitz  |  April 10, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Could we get more Americans educated at a college-level by avoiding colleges, perhaps creating some other institution — without research or athletics?”

    We actually have much of this already – they’re in the form of community colleges. Currently they’re restricted to teaching the first two years of a 4-year (higher) education, but many are attempting to become 4-year institutions without research or athletics. Certainly it would be a much better idea to build up/build out community colleges in this way instead of trying to create a new system to accomplish this.

  • 5. Briana Morrison  |  April 11, 2011 at 10:07 am

    What about the different costs per major? It costs a great deal more to educate a student in computer science or engineering versus psychology due to the specialized equipment, lab facilities, etc. And if we remove the costs for “academic support” or “student services” then you are forcing students to pay for things like counseling, career services, tutoring, etc. If those “extraneous” items are not part of an undergraduate education costs, then we need to re-examine the whole system. I, for one, believe they are essential to providing a well-rounded educational experience, not just the “degree.”

    • 6. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  April 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      Actually, it does not cost more to teach computer scientists, as there is no specialized equipment needed at the undergrad level. Everything they are taught can be done on a laptop. The difference in cost comes from the higher salaries of CS professors and the higher cost of doing research (where specialized equipment is often needed).

  • 7. Robert Marmorstein  |  April 19, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    It’s true that some majors cost more than others (especially Computer Science) — partly because it costs so much more to hire professors away from industry. However, students also benefit more (in terms of salary, at least) from these degrees.

    Perhaps the fairest system would be to differentiate tuition so that students in these majors pay their “fair share” of the cost. That would create a whole slough of new problems, though.

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