Arizona State University is often the butt of jokes – to this day every time I hear someone described as promiscuous I think "She's easier to get into than ASU!" – on account of its supposedly lax academic/admissions standards and bargain-basement cost. In-state tuition in the late 1980s and early 1990s was not even $2000. Between 1999 and 2010, the cost of tuition increased 300%, from just under $3000 to $8900. Tuition at the University of California-Riverside increased 29.

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7% in a single year from 2009 to 2010. Since 1980 the average public university tuition, adjusted for inflation, has increased almost 400%. Why is college tuition getting so much more expensive? The Chronicle of Higher Education has a neat interactive tool that you can use to find any institution if you're curious.

I question the knee-jerk response from those of us on the left, that state budget cuts are responsible for passing a greater share of the costs onto students. There is undoubtedly merit in this argument. State budget cuts are hard on universities, especially as enrollments skyrocket. But in aggregate, state allocations to universities have been rising almost as quickly as tuitions since 1980. It's not equal to the penny and that isn't the point here; instead, let's focus on the fact that everything about it is getting more expensive.

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The rising costs lead to one of two outcomes, and not the one most commonly used as a boogeyman:

1. Mom and Dad shell out the cash and get angrier / more reactionary about how much they have to pay. Teabagging ensues. Everyone involved feels entitlement, reinforcing the parents'/students' sense that they are paying a ton and they're paying a ton for an A and a degree.

2. Students accumulate more debt. This, not the straw man of "Poor people won't be able to afford college!", is the depressing result. Anyone who can fill out a FAFSA can find someone to offer them the loans, guaranteeing that people of all socioeconomic classes can graduate with a barely useful BA and a ball-crushing load of debt that will ensure their enduring servility in the workforce.

But I digress. Where's all this extra money going? How are both students and taxpayers pouring more money into public universities with no end in sight to get essentially the same service? It sure as hell isn't going to professor salaries. It sure as hell isn't going to teaching overall, what with the growing use of $12k/yr grad students and adjuncts. It sure as hell isn't going to research (the growth of which is relying mostly on external grants and the private sector). So, what? Let me propose two culprits we don't often hear about.

First, massive investments in infrastructure – particularly non-academic infrastructure – that aren't doing much to enhance the academic experience. Anyone who was on a college campus between, say, 1992 and 2008, knows that the sight of cranes and construction was unavoidable. Higher education went absolutely Big Shiny Building loco. Why? Growth for the future and anticipated growth in enrollment explains part of it, for sure.
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We needed more space. But so much of it was aimed at marketing the school to potential "customers". Students (and parents) have a tremendous amount of choice in higher education, from the local commuter 2-year school to high end private 4-years. No university wanted to give gaggles of high school seniors (with parents awkwardly in tow) the Campus Tour without being able to show them a bunch of Big Shiny Buildings. Mom and Dad aren't gonna be very impressed unless they can see "hi-tech" classrooms full of the latest gadgets. Big Shiny Buildings don't impress the kids much, though – gyms do.
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"Student centers" do. Student unions that look like shopping malls / amusement parks do. The big rock climbing wall and other MTV-esque crap does. None of this stuff is educational. It is strictly there to entertain students and lure in potential students. Everyone tells you they'll give you an education, so the important thing is which school offers you the most "fun". Which one has the most cool shit? Which one looks most like the campuses on TV shows?

Second, the growth in administration has been unchecked and exponential. Most public schools now have an administrative-to-educational employment ratio of 3:1 to 4:1. Or worse. Layers upon layers of extremely highly paid, dubiously useful administrators. Some of the growth has come from the addition of useful offices in recent years – for example, I'd argue for the value of the Offices of Women's Affairs that most schools have added since 1990. But good god, the average school literally has a dozen or more buildings chock full of people of no discernible utility. Everyone complains about bureaucracy; on campus it's more valid than in most settings. The Assistant Vice-Provost for External Affairs and his staff of 28 aren't working for free. The 500 deans on most campuses aren't doing any more than 100 did 30 years ago (except for fund raising; most of them spend 90% of their time on that, academic planning be damned). There is no more nuanced way to put it – universities are now top heavy with six-figure-salaried stuffed suits with no marketable skills and no apparent purpose except to make more difficult everything a university is supposed to do.

The cost of higher education, either for students or state legislatures, isn't going to go down until they stop putting politically expedient Band-Aids on their problems (furloughs, larger classes, pay/hiring freezes, more temp labor in the classroom) and decide to focus on what is supposedly their core mission: educating people. The new $100 million MultiTainment Complex and the Orrin Hatch Learning and Instructional Center are expensive frills. Athletic programs are money-losing albatrosses. Administrators exist mostly to perpetuate the need for administrators. Teaching and research should be 99% of what we do. But mention that on the Campus Tour and watch the eyes start to glaze over…

50 thoughts on “UPWARD SPIRAL”

  • Buildings and buildings and buildings full of useless administrators? Check. UGA even put them in all the nice buildings students would love to have classes in on North Campus. Sure, they haven't kicked Philosophy out of Peabody and I was in Caldwell for Landscape Architecture. But all those other buildings up there under the trees? Full of useless drones.

  • "Layers upon layers of extremely highly paid, dubiously useful administrators."

    This is true for primary and secondary education in America as well.

    "The 500 deans on most campuses aren't doing any more than 100 did 30 years ago (except for fund raising; most of them spend 90% of their time on that, academic planning be damned)."

    Hey, a fellow graduate of the University of Virginia!

  • This speaks to me, having stumbled upon many super-orientation tours, which are basically the same orientation tours but 50x the size. It's a big campus here, but overhearing lackluster guides selling the amenities gets old fast.

  • Seconding the waste of sports stadia on campuses. The U of Arkansas, where I graduated with a relatively modest $35,000 in student loans, has quite a few buildings that are falling apart (I can think of six off the top of my head), but god knows that we NEEDED that $110,000,000 football stadium renovation a decade ago!

  • What's great is that everyone knows there's a bubble in higher education. You'd have to have gone to ASU to not realize it. It's in law school tuition too. It's probably the most-recognized macroeconomic fact after "the rent is too damn high". And there's nothing to do other than to make jokes about it while it continues to inflate.

    What's not known is what will happen after it pops. How will the bloated administrative class fend for themselves after the money isn't there to support them? How will the collapse of the billion-dollar student-loan business reverberate through the rest of the credit industry? Will schools be able to weather the carnage and provide education to an uninterrupted stream of students?

    Maybe some people know the answers to these questions; I sure don't.

  • Comrade Luke says:

    I totally agree with the obsession with building more buildings, but doesn't part of the increase in tuition over the last few decades have to do with subsidizing the banks that provide the student loans?

    There have been two parallel tracks: inceased tuition being fed by student loans, and "infrastructure" improvements (yay, new stadium!) paid for via fundraising and/or university endowments (basically the same thing as fundraising).

  • Mike Konczal has a piece combining his own thoughts with some other material on the price vs value calculation of universities.

    The best quote is from Yglesias, which Mike relays: “The current incentive structure points toward always reinvesting excess money into moving up the prestige hierarchy rather than toward lowering prices to broaden the customer base”


  • Comrade Luke has it right, the root of the matter is the guaranteed student loan system that allow 18 year olds to amass debt beyond their comprehension that they will not be able to discharge even in bankruptcy.

    If there aver were an argument for the free market it would be this. You can't charge more than your customers are willing to pay. The ready access to limitless credit to people who would never qualify for a loan of any kind is what has driven tuitions to the ludicrous levels they are today.

    Perhaps someday when we acknowledge our third world status it will change but until then let's all celebrate the future of online education that costs just as much but without bothering with such things as classrooms, professors or even dorm rooms.

    Bring on the future.

  • Well a chunk of the increase in tuition is to cover increased scholarships that cover a lot of the increase in tuition.

    For example I went to a very expensive school 1999-2003 and including room and board my family and I ended up paying:
    -$4,000/year out of pocket.
    -$5,000/year student loans
    -Buying textbooks

    I think I got my money's worth there. Of course I paid less than any of my friends, I often thanked them for having their parent help pay for me ;)

  • I teach in a state system that has kept that median tuition increase Ed cites down. In PA, our tuitions haven't kept up even with the rate of inflation over the last 20 years. At the same time, our allocation from the state has dropped to just over 30% of our total system budget. Our Tea Party governor (brethren with Rick Scott, Scott Walker and the gang) proposed a reduction of 54% to our system's state allocation this year. We got "lucky" with an 18% hack (and yes, I know other states got hit worse).

    So don't dismiss so quickly the claim that legislatures are squeezing public university systems–they most certainly are.

    How are managers going to keep paying for their bloated selves? By generating as many credit hours (tuition dollars) as possible, educational quality be damned. They'll all be dead by the time the bill comes due for their malfeasance, so what do they care?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Today, it almost seems as if the reward for getting out of our shitty and underfunded secondary education system alive is to go to a college where you can rack up over a fifth of a million dollars in debt just to get a BA or BS – then go and rack up still more debt to get a Masters/Doctorate, only to walk out finding a low-paying job market unless you made the right choice in majors.

    Now go back 35 years – I graduated from an excellent secondary education system and went to local private (Catholic) college. I had gotten a NY State Regents Scholarship, and they matched it, then doubled it, so when I graduated 5 years later (I was a commuter and worked several jobs to minimize borrowing – plus I wanted an extra year to party :-) I had less than $4,000 in debt. Yes, you read that right, $4,000. My sister, who entered college in my 5th year, went to a state university, and by the time she got out, she had a hell of a lot more debt in 4 years than I did going to a private college for 5.
    Yes, part of it was my scholarship, and part was working, but it was right at that time, the early '80's, when college costs started to skyrocket, and they've been doing nothing since – actually accelrating even faster.

    And students are getting themselves into a trap. The Wage/Debt trap.
    People may need to start to do a cost-benefit analysis on whether to go to college or not. Today, a college degree isroughly worth what a HS degree was 35-50 years ago. But with a HS degree back then, you could still get a job in machining, or manufacturing, or retail management, other management, etc., and lead a solid middle class existence. I don't think that't true anymore. Everyone wants to hire someone with a degree – particularly if the job is not a dead-end one.
    Now, here's the cost-benefit:
    If you DON'T go to college, you're pretty much guaranteed a lifetime of lower wages – but you didn't acquire a ton of debt to start off with. You probably won't make what a graduate does in your lifetime, but you start off not owing over a hundred or two thousand dollars either.
    If you DO go to college, you're acquiring a ton of debt if you go away to a 4-year school, and you're banking on the fact that this economy will eventually turn around (it probably will), and the fact that you'll have a place in it that will not only allow you to pay off your debt in a timely manner, but to have your income steadily increase throughout your life to make up for that fifth of a million you started off owing (maybe not).

    I don't know what the solution is.
    College is almost mandatory here in the US, because, we no longer have a need for skilled labot. In other countries, skilled labor is not only needed, but valued and rewarded. And we've gotten away from skilled labor making things, to an economy that services the shit other countries make.
    If you have any chance to rise above being a low-wage CSR, or other low-level employee, you need that degree. Because without it, most companies won't hire you in the first place, but even if they do, they won't move you up the ladder without one.

    That's the Wage/Debt trap in the US in a nutshell – they've got us coming, and they got us going. College – no college, you're still trapped.

    Before, people had alternatives. Years ago, when we needed and valued machinists, draftsmen, etc., most of them were union members. All they needed was a couple of years of HS, preferably a degree, but not necesarilly, and the union hired you on as an apprentice, and trained you. And you could lead a fine middle class life – making even more that many professors, and even some medical doctors.

    And, on top of that, not everyone SHOULD go to college. I know – I was an Adjunct Professor for 6 years back in the '90's, and can tell you some stories of some very nice kids, but kids who had NO business in an environment that supposedly was to provide people with higher learning (no jokes about "higher" learning, please). But, that's a rant for a different day.

    Until we come up with an alternative to college, where people can be assured that they will still be able to live the American dream without a degree, there is nothing to slow the cost of higher education down. And I don't see that coming anytime soon. So, parents and students will pay, and pay, and pay – because it's the only game in town.
    Nice racket, eh?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Also, too, to add to my ginormous stupid comment above, if you lived in a large city, they actually had trade HS's, where part of your school day you continued studying English, math, and civic's, but the remainder was spent on a craft or trade – drafting, accounting, machining, manufacturing, etc.

    We didn't have that in suburbia when my parents got me out of NY City just in time for Middle School. But they used to seperate those kids who weren't good academically, and put them into trade programs that were there for multiple school districts. So, it was basically the same principle as the large cities, but in a shared environment.

    Oh, how some people used to laugh at those kids – the poor dumb bastards who were going to be plumbers, or electricians.
    You now who's laughing now?
    It ain't little old unemployed me, with my BA, and corporate background.
    They are.
    Laughing from their paid-off McMansions on paid-off multiple acres with driveways full of paid off cars.

    If I had a kid, I'd have him learn to be an electrician or a plumber, and take some business courses, so he/she can handle a ledger.
    People will always need their lights and TV to turn on, and their shit to flush. You can't outsource that.

  • anotherbozo says:

    wetcasements reminds me of a friend with a doctorate in education who was appointed personal assistant to the NYC School Chancellor years ago. Once, as she was xeroxing copies for him, it occurred to her to ponder, "$50,000 a year to work a copy machine. What's wrong with this picture?" She had no clear function, was just one of his perqs, the potted plant that came with the office.

  • I graduated in 1988 from a state school, one of the smaller campuses. I'm no stunning athlete, but I managed to walk onto the gymnastics team and the lacrosse team because we were a small school playing other small schools and my average-ness really didn't matter because everyone else was average, too. We had an average little gym for an average little school, and our only wow-feature was the swimming pool, which was used for the average little swim team, regular student swimming, and a variety of swimming classes (including the lifeguarding class I took to satisfy a gym requirement). I paid a whopping $800 for my first semester of school in 1984. I really enjoyed my college years and feel I got a well-rounded education. Even though I worked and put myself entirely through school, there was still time for extracurricular activities and fun.

    Now my high school child is considering the same modest school (grown a tiny bit bigger)….but tuition has more than septupled per semester and there's a huge, bloated, entitled state-of-the-art gym. Filling it are platoons of coaches and assistant coaches and assistant-assistant coaches and trainers and therapy staff and expensive, expensive equipment. Someone's got to pay for that, and it's the students, apparently. The same students who have no hope whatsoever of playing on any of the teams, because the athletes (they are not students, make no mistake there) are also bought and paid for with student tuition dollars, as are the super-duper stadiums built to accommodate them.

  • Re: expectations.

    Not only are students being roped in by shiny new climbing walls, but they've been brainwashed that only the most expensive will do. I saw it in my own extended family, when my neice simply *had* to attend a private, $50k/year school…to study dance. A quarter-of-a-million dollars later, she's working in a discount department store with her BA in Dance and splitting the rent on a shared house with four other people. For that quarter-million, her parents could have bought her a house and a car so at least she could have worked the discount department store in relative comfort.

    A co-worker's daughter just graduated from another private school in a big city. With tuition, apartment rental, and city living costs, co-worker shelled out close to $80k/year. The kid's degree? Art. She's now working in a plant nursery.

    In both cases, the desired degree could have been gotten at much, much lower cost through the local community college. In both cases, I heard, "But, but, but, {child} said she would ONLY go to {very expensive private school}!!!" Really? Who's the parent here? {Child} is free to go anywhere she can pay for.

  • @cundgulag: good post overall, but I think you slipped on one point.

    Laughing from their paid-off McMansions on paid-off multiple acres with driveways full of paid off cars.

    Very few of those people have paid-off anything. The ones who didn't rack up six figures in college debt are the same ones who racked up six figures in housing debt for properties that are now underwater, or five figures in credit card debt for very little of real value. Both, in most cases.

  • besides physical infrastructure, higher education institutions have poured huge amounts of money into electronic infrastructure of dubious utility, such as peoplesoft platforms. besides paying oracle to create the system, truckloads of money are needed to pay auditing companies for technological consulting, implementation support, and presumably concealing the costs in the books.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    You're probably right.
    But the ones I know, though, are the ones who run their own small businesses and are doing fairly well – at least compared to the rest of us. It's the people who are working for them that aren't doing well. The owners have enough work to get by for themselves, it's the workers who have to hope the owner finds enough work to justify paying them for a full week.
    But, I'll stand corrected, since I think, overall, you are much more right generally, than I am. I am basing this on where I live, which, though a depressed area compared to 30 ears ago, isn't nearly as bad as some places in the country.

  • Grumpygradstudent says:

    There are a lot of very interesting assertions in this piece, but I'd like to see some empirical evidence.

  • This is a topic close to home (hubby is an underpaid professor).

    I too, wonder where the #@*% all that money goes. You mentioned infrastructure and administration, and asked what the administration is doing.

    Question: is it possible that a chunk of that administration is there to deal with all of the "special needs" sudents now attending colleges, who weren't there a few decades back? Kids with every learning disability under the sun, kids with emotional problems, kids in need of massive remedial education – all of which require various "support services", with experts to staff them and administrators run them. This has got to add up, no?

    Also, let's not forget marketing. That glossy "literature" (we used to call them "brochures") don't write and photograph themselves, those websites don't create and maintain themselves, and that "long range marketing plan" doesn't write and "implement" itself. It all requires both outlays to professional PR firms and an in-house administration.

    And all of those student loans? There are bound to be more financial aid office workers than ever, to help facilitate all of that paperwork.

    Also, let's not forget another aspect of this: the fact that schools are economic engines for communities. Universities employ a LOT of ancillary workers from the surrounding region. All of the "expert" administrators require support staff, and the university needs service people and maintenance workers of every sort. (Those buildings don' build, heat, cool, plumb, clean, and maintain themselves.) Local politicians have a vested interest in local job creation, so I have to wonder how much of the push towards expansion has a purely economic imperitive, and political encouragement for that reason.

  • I presumed the money was making up via tuition for the steady 5% declines in state funding that have happened every year of the past decade, at my alma mater at least.

    Also, computers.

  • Oh, yes, and I forgot: all of that computer infrastructure wasn't there a few decades ago – it's expensive, and in constant need of upgrades. And it needs management and support staff.

    (And yes, I realize there is a subject-verb disagreement in the second sentence of the fourth paragraph of my last post. Literature is singular, brochures are plural. I did not proof well.)

  • Not to overly defend the athletic programs of any university but a couple of things. At major universities, the mega football team pays for the rest of the sports program. So if you don't like the 11kagillion dollar upgrade to the Saturday meccalopolis and want to get rid of it, remember you're also getting rid of the girls volleyball team, boys water polo team, etc. So Cam Newton being an idiot and having no chance to graduate well before he steps onto campus is awful, unless you realize the it allows the gymnastic teams to exist and those kids probably DO graduate. Secondly, high-end sports act as a recruiting tool for students. Duke's applications for admission quintupled the year after they won their first national bball championship. This was before Duke was considered an 'elite' university (and I'll let you argue over whether Duke is that or not). Kids don't want to go to a college with shitty sports teams. This is only true at big state colleges. What bugs me is when mid-major or small colleges dump a ton of money into their sports programs because that money is coming directly out of the classroom.

  • Absolutely false. In the last NCAA comprehensive report, 8 athletic departments in Division I and IAA made a profit. Eight. Out of over 250.

  • anotherbozo says:

    Just a guess, but feeding into the problem may be endowment vanity. What gazillionaire alum wants his contribution to go into some nebulous "Education Fund," vs. having a shiny new building named after him? No contest.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Also, two, too, to my earlier comments – one of the overlooked real 'benefits' of very expensive higher education rates is the effect that has on military recruitement in a country with a volunteer military.

    When I lived and worked in Fayetteville, NC, home of Fort Bragg, I can't tell you how many young people I met who either went in, or were about to go in, because their families could not afford to pay for college, and their grades weren't good enough to get scholarships. Most of those students were minority Blacks and Hispanic's, but with some poor white ones as well.

    So, there is an incentive to join the military in that it will offset some of the costs of getting a degree later. If you get out physically and mentally capable of doing so.

    OK, I'll shut up now.

  • I work in a New England boarding school, and before the '08 Crash, we heard a rumor that some of the top schools – Andover, Exeter and St. Pauls – had such large endowments that they could literally stop charging tuition. Three of the finest schools in the world and you could go for free if you could get in.

    But they didn't do it, and not just because their endowments got crushed.

    The psychology of a "free" or "cheap" education means that it must not be as a valuable. If I as a parent am not paying anything for my child's education, how can it be "worth" anything.

    Many of our students would rather pay $40,000 a year or more to go to a NESCAC school than a school like Michigan. Public education MUST be less impressive than private education because it COSTS LESS.

    There's a perverse incentive to keep tuition high. If Hamilton is charging $41K a year, then it MUST be a superlative education. And so even if Hamilton COULD lower it's tuition, it would be folly to do so.

    The New Gilded Age economics at play.

  • Actually Ed, I think you're wrong about the funding being a neutral issue. At least here in CA things have gotten much worse in the last 30 years:

    The state has cut its investment in higher education by close to 50 percent since 1980, forcing tuition increases like the 60 percent rise at the University of California from 2004 to 2008, which was followed by a 32 percent rise between 2009 and 2011. Meanwhile, half of California

  • Oh, our big state university is just getting rid of its big dollar president who bloated up the administration the minute he hit the decks. No one (except the regents) have been happy with this president and the faculty even passed a vote of no confidence in him. Of course the faculty was roundly ignored by the regents. This president was trouble from day one–he actually created a position for his son-in-law–and then proceeded to be surprised at the backlash. He managed to get his buddies who own a campus housing corporation to win bids to build new dorms–way the fuck away from main campus, thus ensuring that students will keep driving their goddamn cars onto campus–and ensuring that more parking garages will be built.

    Pisses me right off, it does–but this is the way it will be as long as the regents are wealthy political appointees. Just perpetuating the rich white man alliance as long as possible.

  • Isn't it interesting mothra, how all the old solutions to injustice just don't work anymore? The faculty have no power, the students have no power and all we're left to do is writing rants on blogs.

    When will the revolution begin?

  • I've been teaching college for eight years and have often wondered about this. I've come to similar conclusions (infrastructure and administration), although I'd add at least two more of varying size: technology and price differentiation. The technology is, I *think*, relatively minor compared to the others, but where a classroom used to need a chalkboard and desks, most need at least a computer, usually also a projector, maybe a DVD player, and these days maybe also a smart board. Plus labs, campus networking, etc.

    The price differentiation is a bigger deal, though. At a lower tuition, even the richer students (or rather, students from richer families) are paying only a bit. Imagine three students, able to pay $20K, $10K, and $5K respectively, at a school where it would cost $8K to educate one student. If you charge $8K you get $16K for two students and the third kid is out of luck. If you charge $10K and give a $5K scholarship to the third kid, you get $25K for three students. If you charge $15K and give a $5K scholarship to the second and a $10K to the third, you get $30K for three students—$6K more than you need *and* you get kudos for making higher education "more accessible" to someone who couldn't afford it… even for the student who *could* have afforded it if you hadn't been playing these games.

    I'm overall neutral on the price differentiation thing, actually. There are definite pros and cons. But I'm pretty certain that it's a significant element in the epidemic of rising tuition rates, and tables and graphs of rising tuition (inflation-adjusted or otherwise) are incomplete without information about the school's discount rate as well.

  • UC Berkeley's new sports stadium and "Student-Athlete High Performance Center" cost $123 million dollars. The administration goes to great pains to point out it all came from private donations (and actually, they're lying.) So what? Why weren't the donations solicited for educational purposes? Maybe these "private donors" wouldn't have coughed up as much as they did for having skyboxes to watch 8 home football games per year. Let's say the admins only would have wheedled half that much. That's still $62 million. But nooOOOOoooo….

    But that's the problem. I work in the performing arts department. They laid off 20% of the technical staff last year, and lost more to attrition. But the lobby of Zellerbach Hall Auditorium now has a gorgeous refit, a new cafe, new bathrooms, and a $100,000 bronze statue of a ballerina – a "gift" from the insanely rich, three-times-her-age husband of the ballerina who posed for it. But the lighting patch bay was installed in 1968 and is still in use, held together with bypass cables, baling wire and prayers.

    Why? Because it's similar to the "shiny new building" thing (and UC also has a lot of shiny new buildings too.) People can SEE IT. The rich donors can bring their rich friends around and say, "see what my donation bought? Isn't it new and shiny?" That's not the same as telling them:

    "My donations kept the department from having to lay off six workers."

    "What? You mean THE HELP?"

  • Hairless in Gaza says:

    I graduated from Georgia State in 1982… in those days a body could make enough working at some crappy job (even in the lousy job market of those days) to pay GSU's tuition. (Said body lived in shared digs and ate poorly, yes, but it was possible.)

    My daughter goes to a community college in Roanoke, VA, and even living at home, it would not be possible for her to afford tuition and books.

    Good times!

  • California has had cheap college educations for so long, with a flood of crap classes along with the genius stream, that there are now generations of ignorant dipshits with sheepskins. I have met people with basket-weaving degrees who sneer at HVAC techs for making excellent money, because It's Not Right that someone who went to traaaade school should make more than a noble aesthete with a pamphlet-and-instructional-video-based education. California has produced some great minds, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    Let's talk about the purpose of education. I'd like to see school be free for the smart. Let the wealthy who are not smart pay for private classes outside the academic world, just as they pay for lessons in cooking or dancing. I don't want kids at the mercy of ignorant admissions counselors, or having to sign off on loans they don't understand, or working three jobs during the school year, or trying the military and getting sidetracked (in some cases, by death.) The world's problems are not going to be solved by remedial readers, bless their hearts, and clogging classes with students whose collective virtue is a tuition check that clears is holding back the bright ones.

    And let's not require that secretaries, bank tellers, assistant managers, and other low-level white collar schlubs have BAs before they are allowed to push three buttons and smile for a living. All those papers on Chinua Achebe and the Lusitania and the Oort cloud — which should have been taught in high school anyway — do not make one proficient in Microsoft Office, reliable in attendance, or anything but deep in debt.

  • Probably the most insightful comments I've seen so far were from Comrade Luke and Uri. One part of the problem is that a mix of student loans and scholarships have kept college "affordable" in the present even as tuition keeps rising. Those tuitions are going into the everyday expenses–paying professors and the ever-growing legions of administrators. Donors are often targetted for more specialized infrastructure building and scholarship programs. This is one side of the problem: schools have the ability to generate more money than they know what to do with.

    But schools have put this money to generally worthless uses because administrators see higher education as both a commodity and a lifestyle. A commodity because of statements like "if student X hadn't gotten a liberal arts degree, they'd be making six figures as an engineer." These make it seem as though colleges are giving students knowledge directly applicable in the job market. Liberal arts professors probably see more clearly that student success has very little to do with choice of major. A lifestyle because the bureaucrats being added busy themselves with factors generally unrelated to the actual classroom experience. Both these factors detract from the status and power of teachers within the university.

    One of my pet peeves, as a current computer professional, is seeing schools spend millions of dollars on terrible email systems and other computer systems. These schools are chock full of cheap programmers who need work experience, and they are hiring outside programmers completely unfamiliar with student needs! Certainly, students cannot build a secure email system all by themselves, but 2-3 experienced professionals and 8-10 CS students would be able to improve just about any school email system I've seen.

  • Buckyblue says: "Kids don't want to go to a college with shitty sports teams. "

    Says who? Most savvy kids know that the sports teams are stocked with bought-and-paid-for athletes (the vast majority can in no way be called students because they're not there for their intellect). Sports teams are running farm teams on the taxpayer's dimes. I graduated from a university with absolutely average sports teams and nobody gave two hoots.

  • Vishnu Schist says:

    Well, as a graduate of ASU, rather than take on the cost of education, I'd rather jump on the use of the old saw, that anyone can get into ASU. Frankly I have little interest in reading this whole thread when it is prefaced with a slur on the lines of "Al Gore invented the internet", or "Tax cuts raise revenue". I suggest Mr G&T, who spend an entire thread lambasting the laziness of most comedians and their use of crutches, redirect a few of his precious minutes between blogging, writing jokes and looking for a job and look up the academic record of ASU, especially the Honors College there. I think you'll find the results surprising. Slam those winter shitholes like Ohio State or maybe U of Minnesota. I believe they have equal or larger student bodies, and frankly given the choice, I'd much rather attend ASU, the chicks are way hotter.

  • As a University Prof. I could write an epic on this topic. Let's just say that last year, while we were being furloughed in Wisconsin and taking paycuts as a result, the hiring of administrators continued without shame; full open floodgates. We had no money for merit, no raises, plus furloughs, and my school hired a "Chief Diversity Officer" for 6 figures. I don't know, you'd think the Chancellor would be, by default, the Chief Diversity Officer.

  • Vishnu Schist (above)–Annotated:

    Well, as a graduate of ASU, rather than take on the cost of education, I'd rather jump on the use of the old saw, that anyone can get into ASU.

    "There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot, dry Santa Anas that come down through mountain passes and curl your hairand make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends up in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband's necks. Anything can happen…." –Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind"

    Frankly I have little interest in reading this whole thread when it is prefaced with a slur on the lines of "Al Gore invented the internet", or "Tax cuts raise revenue".

    "Every day I set less store on intellect." –Marcel Proust "Remembrance of things Past"

    I suggest Mr G&T, who spend an entire thread lambasting the laziness of most comedians and their use of crutches, redirect a few of his precious minutes between blogging, writing jokes and looking for a job and look up the academic record of ASU, especially the Honors College there. I think you'll find the results surprising.

    "The high grey-flannel fog of winter closed off the Salina Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world." –John Steinbeck "The Chrysanthemums"

    Slam those winter shitholes like Ohio State or maybe U of Minnesota.

    "For whom is the funhouse fun?" –John Barth "Lost in the Funhouse"

    I believe they have equal or larger student bodies, and frankly given the choice, I'd much rather attend ASU, the chicks are way hotter.

    "in walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits." –John Updike "A&P"

    It's called a literary "hook." Perhaps you were too busy whacking off the day they taught this in honors English.

  • Vishnu Schist says:

    "It's called a literary "hook." Perhaps you were too busy whacking off the day they taught this in honors English."

    I doubt it, (my freshman year girlfriend was smoking hot, no need for too much wacking off). Between banging her and all the beer I did learn that one should initiate an arguement with something that allows the arguement to follow logically. In this case starting with ASU's supposedly lax entrance requirements (and failing to refute) and then leading into a discussion of tuition costs would have probably had my english TA choking between bong hits and placed me firmly in the C- category. But oh well. I did have quite a good time while studying in ASU's excellent engineering school and even better, only paid about $1700 in tuition a semester. So all told my $20,000 or so investment in tuition lead to a six figure income and life time income well in the millions. I'll take that bargain. BTW – that freshman year chick was way hot, my girlfriend my junior/senior years was even hotter. Cheers.

  • mother earth says:

    A couple of years ago I figured out that the Chancellor at U of A(Arkansas) was getting deferred annuities and bonuses, just like the football coaches. I was a little shocked, but I think part of the bloat might be contributed to the fact that top dog academia have taken notes from their athletic brothers and started padding their contracts. The previous chancellor didn't like his official residence, so he built an even bigger one. This all the while when it is often tough for students to get into basic, required courses because there's not enough available. And I too wonder if a college degree is really worth it. I think not if one is having to take out huge loans to get through school.

  • During my senior year in high school (2000), an uber-tanned cheerleader was going on about how she loved Arizona State because, "OMG! EVERY DORM HAS AN OUTDOOR SWIMMING POOL!" This article reminded me of this. :)

  • This post is spot on. When I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley a few years back, I sat on the graduate senate. At one point, the president of the senate handed out the school budget and explained that we needed to figure out what we wanted to cut, because otherwise that year's 10% budget cuts would just be across the board.

    Oh, except that we weren't allowed to touch administrative stuff (and I'm pretty sure the administrative stuff wasn't going to suffer the 10% cuts). So we couldn't complain about the fact that for every $1 of financial aid being awarded to students, $1 was going to administration of that aid. Or the myriad of vice-whomevers doing whatever.

    Meantime, anytime I wanted to take a poo on campus, I had to have it signed off by at least three levels of personnel on the proper forms on alternate Tuesdays. Made for a fun six years.

  • Ridiculous indeed; I'm at a state school that 20 years ago was funded by the state for over 2/3rds of its operating costs, now we're a cut or so away from being a fully privatized institution.

    As for administrative costs, upper level admin salaries is where it's at. They're trying to emulate the corporate salary game, and it's horrifying to watch… I'm quite cheesed we just hired a 2nd tier nobody for our new President at a half *million* a year, yet nothing but pay cuts for for the worker bees for the last 5 years.

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