Symposium 2016: The costs of attending college have skyrocketed while actual learning has declined. Are these costs legitimate and has learning simply become a big business?

Owatonna, MN Correspondent- Since 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average college tuition increases have more than doubled the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The strange accompanying fact is that enrollments in post-secondary schools have also increased significantly, nearly doubling in that time.

In a free market system, an increase in supply (number of students) translates to lower costs for colleges since they would expect to see economies of scale from serving more students. If that were the case, tuition costs should have more closely tracked the CPI. Since learning in the United States is controlled by the government, free market theories don’t apply. What seems to have changed is the decreased amount of money provided by state and federal governments in the form of loans and grants to help students pay tuition. This probably is the biggest reason tuitions have become unaffordable for many students.

Pressure has been applied to all governments to reduce taxes but still provide benefits and services to constituents, led by the federal government’s newfound affection for borrowing instead of taxing. Servicing debt is cheaper than directly increasing taxes to provide money for student loans and grants. It’s also easier for politicians to deny funding for colleges and universities rather than ask their constituents to pay more taxes. All this shifts the cost burden more to the students.

Competition among schools for the best students has resulted in school administrations adding services and programs that cost money. Other expenditures may go toward upgrading dormitories and classrooms, widening course offerings, and adding layers of staff and bureaucracy to handle all these new programs and services. Some may say a lot of these extras are not essential for a college education today, but in a global society, the country must also guard against losing its brightest young minds to foreign schools that may offer more education for less money.

Costs that aren’t legitimate include paying salaries to college presidents and other upper-level executives that compete with private business executive salaries. It also seems that many schools suffer from top-heavy bureaucracies that waste a significant amount of money but don’t add to the education quality. In this way, higher education has become big business but doesn’t seem to echo the path of successful businesses that improve quality while reducing costs to consumers. The nation’s colleges will do well to emulate computer and cell-phone manufacturers along with other technology companies that are continuously producing better products at lower prices.

 

 

Gastonia, NC Correspondent- College costs have become completely ridiculous and out of touch with the real world value of the degrees conferred.  The smart money now is in trade schools, with well-trained HVAC techs making six-figure incomes and reliable auto mechanics vacationing in Aruba.  The student loan crisis is just that, and while the degreed ones knew how much they were borrowing, they also got sold a bill of goods as to the value of their educations.  I say let the for-profit universities stage a price war and get the overall costs under control.

Prescott Valley, NV Correspondent- College costs have risen for a number of reasons, one being the government and its system of trying to help students through loans and financial aid, which usually culminate with students paying a premium for their college education years after graduation, particularly if there is no work in their field of study or job scarcity is prevalent.

Unfortunately, students today tend to forget the costs of college in the first place and when someone else is footing the bill, whether it’s through a government loan, personal loans, parents, mentors or other family members, it is easy to forget how much an education costs.  Only when the first loan payment comes due does the realization of the expense, payment plan and shock value come into play.

When colleges and universities know that students are well funded and have an indispensible amount of money to spend, provided by the government and others, the costs of admission, tuition and other expenses are bound to increase in the name of doing business.

In addition to the upsurge in college and university costs due to the number of students on government student loans and financial aid, there are other forces that drive costs up and they include housing students, attracting top faculty to colleges at high salary levels, providing research facilities as well as building and maintaining the latest in facilities, conveniences and niceties to attract prospective students.

Costly amenities aimed at enticing students are fast becoming important factors in gaining a competitive edge in the recruitment process, as exclusive and expensive schools are seeking the best, brightest and wealthiest of students who can pretty much pay their own way. These amenities or goodies such as off campus housing, work out and spa facilities, rock climbing walls, waterways, park  accommodations, eateries and all kinds of  specialties are just some of the features that attract and hold students to a pricey four-year commitment.

Student services also account for the rise in college costs and include health and medical accommodation, career counseling and advising, employment projection, assistance for special education and disabled students, continuing education, intercollegiate sports, and other services that are all figured in to admission costs.

College and university payrolls for non-teaching jobs (mostly in student services) have also increased significantly and have added to the expense of going to college. With the addition of a considerable number of employees in higher education, college costs will continue to rise.

Though university teaching salaries can be costly and top colleges and universities spend a considerable amount in salaries to obtain talented professors and researchers, wages are somewhat stable as teaching jobs are in high demand and wages less negotiable. In spite of this more stable spending aspect, another reason for increases in college costs are due to state budget cuts in state funding for higher education and diminishing subsidies for private colleges and universities. With the limited amounts of funds through these sources, these costs are also passed on to students and their families.

Many of these cost increases are excessive and rather than curriculum and learning being the main focus of a college or university, the added extras in buildings and other amenities are engrained in the application process and  have become the focus of colleges and universities rather than the commitment to learning and  actual instruction time.

The new characterization of college appears to be one more one of a business model rather than one of furtherance of knowledge and preparation for career and ability to function at a reasonable level of intelligence in the outside world.

Learning has taken a backseat to business and students will continue to drown in government loans, personal debt and pay premium prices just to say they attended college, while the institutions thrive.  Not a whole lot of concentrated learning is going on in this kind of atmosphere particularly when many colleges and universities are prospering while students are suffering both education deficits and loan regret, which many may or may not recover from when it is all said and done.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent- We, as a country, really need to re-evaluate higher education. A degree does not equal a job anymore. I’m not sure the exact answer to this but sadly students are drowning in debt, and many are paying this debt late into their life! Now that MOST students go to college or at least community college a degree is not a commodity. Employers are wise to this fact and they are picky (which I have no problem with), want experience etc etc.

Here is one gigantic problem: We allow students to major in programs that have no real viable work attached to them after graduation. Let’s say a 4 year degree will average 10,000 per semester in student loans; that’s a whopping total of 80,000 after graduation! If this student majored in something where jobs are scarce its likely they will default.

Another problem: pretty much everyone can get into college and get loans. Yeah, this is great and all, but again if it’s not a commodity it’s not really a benefit. Maybe we change acceptance procedures. Limit college applicants to 3.5 or higher GPA. Only allow 3.0 and higher into community college. Anyone under that you have to complete vocational school before you can be accepted to college. Or alternatively, limit loans by major. You want to major in Art? Go ahead, but you don’t get loans. You want to major in business management, your job market is larger after graduation so you qualify for loans.

Maybe we need to take a look at other countries that offer free higher education and borrow from their book, or maybe we just are more stringent with who is accepted into college. I’m not sure the exact answer, but something needs to change.

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