Affordable Colleges: What Can Universities Do to Keep Costs Down?

Article excerpt

'Affordable colleges' can mean different things depending on the vantage point. For chief financial officers at schools, affordable colleges could mean heavier teaching loads and rising tuition.

If the top business officers at America's colleges had their druthers, professors would have heavier teaching loads, and tuition would keep rising.

According to a new survey, those were the most frequent strategies cited to cut costs and raise revenue if - and it's a big if - the financial officers didn't have to worry about consequences among various constituencies.

Two-thirds said they had already raised tuition and fees for this coming school year by 3 to 6 percent.

Overall, colleges' financial outlook is growing brighter, with 39 percent saying they are more optimistic about their institution's financial prospects than they were a year ago, according to the survey of 500 chief financial officers by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Moody's.

Jobs at colleges seem relatively safe for the upcoming school year, with 78 percent of CFOs saying they were unlikely to have layoffs. But one-third said they planned to reduce retirement or health-care benefits this year.

CFOs offer just one perspective, of course, on the challenges to having affordable colleges in the United States.

"CFOs are more likely to say the problem is on the faculty side of the ledger," says Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability in Washington. "One of the big problems in higher education is a deep divide between the people who do the money and the people who do everything else," she says, and that's led to a lack of good communication about college costs.

The issue of faculty productivity and tenure is the subject of much debate, but rarely much action.

Teaching loads for faculty have generally gone down over the past several decades, says Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity in Washington. Although some professors bring in external money for research, others write obscure papers at tremendous expense to the university, he says.

Among the CFOs, 38 percent say they'd like to see teaching loads increased. …