There was a great article in this Sunday’s Chicago Tribune Magazine about the rising cost of college tuition. The article profiles Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, a school ranked in the third tier of national colleges by U.S. News and World Report. Tuition costs have doubled at this school between 2000 and 2006 from $4000 to $8000, almost double the rise in health care costs over the same period. Why is tuition increasing at this startling rate? Not for any good reason at all, according to the Chicago Tribune:
Every year, other institutions take their cues from the Harvards or Yales, and it gets tougher for lesser players like Southern to compete. The Carbondale campus ranks in the third tier of national universities, a grouping that falls somewhere between 127 and 182 on a list topped by Princeton University. “They are never going to dislodge these uber-wealthy institutions from their perch,” says Kevin Carey, research and policy manager at the Education Sector think tank. “This is a fool’s game they’re playing. But what’s the alternative? There’s no other playing field. You’re caught.”
Education Secretary Spellings set out to scrutinize the higher-education landscape last year, appointing a commission to brainstorm ideas and recommend reforms. In June, the panel unveiled a draft report sharply critical of the academic establishment, blasting its “dubious” quality, “unseemly complacency” and fiscal inefficiency.
Predictably, those targeted in the broadside howled, saying their contributions to the quality of American life had been maligned, and attacking what they considered a string of cheap shots. By the time Spellings unveiled a final report in September, its aggressive rhetoric was mostly axed.
The report still calls for additional aid based on financial need, addressing the fact that a rising share goes to the affluent. It also proposes standardized testing to measure what college students actually learn. But the group has no power to press its recommendations, and the “action plan” that Spellings endorsed includes such pallid instructions as “raise awareness” and “develop [an] agenda.” Her most ambitious proposal, for a national database to keep track of student progress through college, faces opposition on privacy grounds
After Spellings presented the findings at a National Press Club luncheon meeting, one of the last to leave the room was Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist tapped to serve on the commission shortly after the publication of his manifesto, “Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much.”
Vedder had sat at a VIP table during Spellings’ presentation, and it was all he could do to choke down his baked cod and ratatouille. He complained to reporters afterward about “errors of omission” in the final report, and “bribes” that would need to be paid if universities were to drop their opposition to achievement tests.
The tart-tongued Urbana native has emerged as an unlikely critic of higher education, considering that he occupies one of its choice positions as a tenured economics professor at a tier-1 school. After graduating from Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, Vedder followed a traditional career path in academe. He published frequently, attached himself to a couple of think tanks and taught less and less as tuition went higher and higher–the lighter teaching load for tenured full-time professors like himself being a hallmark of today’s higher-education “scam,” he says. Once he jokingly urged his students to protest their tuition by paying in nickels, only to find the school newspaper embracing the idea.
At age 66, Vedder is launching a new Washington, D.C., think tank bankrolled by Chicago’s Searle family to promote his view that colleges today have practically no incentive to hold down costs and every reason to raise them.
As he sits in the glassed-in conference room of his Center for College Affordability and Productivity, breathing in the new-carpet smell, Vedder says ranking schools based on how much they spend is like rating a car based on the amount of steel used in its construction. It inevitably results in a higher tuition price because it encourages the schools to consume more and more resources.
Read the complete article here.
I did some research and discovered that Richard Vedder has a blog (and a Blogger blog, no less!) devoted to this subject. Check out his blog here. I also added it to my blogroll.
It is ridiculous how much tuition has outpaced inflation. This trend is unlikely to change anytime soon, and it has a horrible effect on the nation at large. The average student loan debt for a college student is now over $15,000 (mine is more than double that even after six years of payments). This increasing debt reduces the ability of college graduates to start families, buy houses, and otherwise get on with life. Check out Richard’s blog–it is very informative.