Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high.'

The Chronicle of Higher Education Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high. And low-income college graduates or those burdened by student-loan debt are questioning the value of their degrees, or saying the cost of college has delayed other life decisions....

Indeed, the general public is fairly shouting its concern about college costs in a companion survey of 2,142 Americans, ages 18 and older, by the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of those polled said college was out of reach for most people. Twenty-five years ago, six in 10 Americans felt that way, according to a survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.
The squeeze is real. College costs have been on the rise, increasing 50 percent over the last decade, Mr. Shi said. By contrast, family incomes actually fell between 2000 and 2009. Ask young adults why they're not enrolled in college or don't have a bachelor's degree, and the overwhelming response in the Pew survey: money....
The belief that college has become prohibitively expensive is shared across class and race lines, among Americans of all income levels, by those who went to college and those who didn't—by everyone, it seems, except college presidents.
Forty-two percent of university leaders, in fact, say most Americans are able to pay for a college degree, according to the Pew Research Center/Chronicle survey.
Why is there such a divergence of opinion between presidents and the public? For one, there's a certain amount of variance among college leaders, with those who typically serve low-income students more concerned about sticker shock. Nearly two-thirds of community-college presidents, for instance, called tuition unmanageable.
Some educators blame the gap on the failure of college officials to make the case about the whys of higher-education pricing. Students and parents, they argue, have a poor understanding of such practices as tuition discounting and don't fully appreciate the costs that go into a college degree, expenses that include faculty salaries and health insurance, remedial-writing labs, even climbing walls. "If they want to buy a Mercedes-Benz," said Stephen J. Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University, "we need to say why it costs more than a cheaper vehicle."


  1. The reason that college presidents don't see the problem is because they are members of the very group CAUSING the problem - administrators. In the past decade, the numbers of well paid administrators have exploded, while the teaching staff have increasingly become contingent part-timers being paid McDonalds wages. Administrators do not see their universities as academic institutions - they see their universities in terms of gorgeous buildings, fancy landscaping, adding satellite campuses in Europe (we now have two) so that students can party abroad, and finally, generators of external grants and contracts.

    Do you know about "indirect costs" on grants? When I get a grant from the NSF, a full THIRD of my grant goes to the administration for "indirect costs". No wonder they are leaning on us so heavilly to get funding!

  2. Yes, I've seen the numbers showing growth of administrators vs growth of instructors. There is definitely a class divide growing, with the community college presidents more concerned with costs.

  3. Wow, you lose a third of your grant money is taken right off the top! Seems very high.

  4. I think the cc presidents serve a population that is likely to be paying the whole bill themselves. On the other hand, at some of the more expensive places kids are getting much better financial aid deals. Some subset of college presidents may be factoring that into their assessment.

    One thing that I find surprising is how similar the costs are at many middling quality schools to those at the top universities. Since the top schools give out a lot of need-based financial aid, it seems like there must be a lot of financial pain in that middle tier.

  5. kcab, I'm not sure if cc students are more likely to be paying more of their college costs than 4-year students are. There's certainly fin aid available to cc students, especially since they tend to be in the lower income groups that are more likely to qualify for needs-based aid. I think it's that the cc students are also more likely to be struggling even to stay in school.

  6. You may a good point about how there is not much difference in the costs between many top and mid tier schools. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to students ending up in overwhelming debt after graduating from a "no-name" expensive school. For some, a less expensive state school would be the better option.

  7. I agree, Grace, a state school makes more sense in many cases. I don't know how the expensive, non-top-tier places make their case! But, I have heard some at top tier universities point to the similarity in cost as evidence of their school being a 'good value'.