Faculty Productivity, College Costs Examined

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TEXAS GOVERNOR RICK PERRY'S recent assertion that the state's colleges and universities should seek to provide a bachelor's degree costing less than $10,000 certainly got Richard Vedder's attention. As director of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity and author of Going Broke By Degree: Why College Costs Too Much (Aei Press, 2004), Vedder was conducting a data analysis of faculty productivity at The University of Texas at Austin. Perry's speech sparked an idea, and the policy paper Vedder co-authored includes scenarios on how tuition could be more affordable if the emphasis on faculty teaching were increased moderately. In one scenario, 2009-2010 in-state tuition levels could have been reduced 63.6 percent, from $8,936 to $3,254 per year.

The paper is a preliminary analysis specifically of data from UT-Austin, chosen because of the vast detail on faculty available-including such factors as teaching loads, class size, tenure status, and research awards, more than Vedder says he's seen published on any other school. But as the paper notes, even a limited analysis can "show the power of the data set in pointing the direction for future change" and what changing personnel usage could mean. While the analysis may not be possible for other states, the pressure to reduce tuition and costs is prevalent across the country. "It's not an easy problem to solve," Vedder says. But with growing "financial pain levels" and constant attention to the rewards of a college education not being as substantial as in the past, he says, "We are going to have to see a change. …