More on the Costs of Higher Education
Tuition goes up as state funding goes down.
Apropos of James Joyner’s post on tuition costs, I had read a post over at HuffPo yesterday called Rich Colleges, Poor Professors. The piece highlights the low pay of adjuncts at American universities and is ultimately a call for unionization.
Setting aside one’s views on unionization, I would note that basic fact of large numbers of part time faculty is a real issue and underscores that the increases in tuition that we have been seeing in higher education is not flowing into the pockets of the faculty.
The piece cites a Chronicle of Higher Education piece that notes that 70% of college faculty are non-tenure track. While there is no breakdown of part-time v. full-time in the story, the bottom line is that non-tenure track faculty are cheaper than tenure-track faculty. The trend has been to shift more and more in this direction and a major reason is cost. According to the Chronicle, the breakdown at 2-year v. 4-year schools is as follows:
Community colleges have traditionally relied heavily on nontenure-track faculty, with 85 percent of their instructors in 2010 not eligible for tenure, according to the most recent federal data available. But the trend has been increasingly evident at four-year institutions, where nearly 64 percent of the instructional faculty isn’t eligible for tenure.
Yes, school have been building nicer dorms and dining facilities and investing in technology and so forth on their campuses as a means of recruitment, and this drives up costs. However, a major driver of tuition increases has been the fact that public schools have been losing state funds for years. When those funds go away, they have to be replaced somewhere. One way, as noted above, is more part-time and non-tenure track faculty (i.e., by cutting labor costs). Another way is to simply raise tuition (which is really the main way to address the problem).
To put some numbers on just recent cuts, see the following from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
States are spending $2,353 or 28 percent less per student on higher education, nationwide, in the current 2013 fiscal year than they did in 2008, when the recession hit.
Deep state funding cuts have major implications for public colleges and universities. States (and to a lesser extent localities) provide 53 percent of the revenue that can be used to support instruction at these schools. When this funding is cut, colleges and universities generally must either cut spending, raise tuition to cover the gap, or both.
Also, as states cut, tuition goes up:
Here’s the long-term trend in tuition’s role in funding higher education:
Whether it is state funding for state schools, cutting Pell Grants, or high interest rates on student loans, we have to come to grips with the very real difficulties that many students have in paying for college and as well as deciding what it really means that we have “public” colleges and universities. Note: many “public” schools receive less than 20% of their budgets from the states in which they reside. As one column on this subject notes, this raises long-term questions about not just student costs, but governance of these institutions:
The longer-term issues that are being addressed in some states and at some public institutions. If these public institutions are no longer state supported who owns them? Who should govern them? Who should they serve? Should states be contracting for quite specified outcomes? The defunding of public higher education by the states inevitably inaugurates a new conversation about who controls them and whose interests are to be served. The states will play a diminished role in finding answers to these questions if public higher education is to survive and thrive.
I am not asking anyone to cry a river over the plight of faculty or university administrators. I am not saying that every dollar spent at every institution is spent wisely. I am saying, however, that if we think that part of the purpose of higher education is to function as a gateway for young people to pass into a better life, we need to reevaluate how we pay for it. We are, as James’ post notes, in a situation where the current funding structure is more likely to replicate existing economic divisions rather than allowing for the capable to gain what they need to improve their standing. Even beyond the question of whether higher education can be a mechanism for upper mobility, we need to be concerned as to whether it is sufficiently affordable for individuals to remain at the same level as the families from which they come.
The whole idea of public higher education is to subsidize the ability of young people to obtain a degree. If we cannot, or will not, pay enough to make that affordable, we might as well stop the fiction of “public” higher ed and just let only those who can afford it go to school (with the commensurate results). Creating a huge class of people with massive student loans is not a sustainable model.