Colleges Must Stop Giving Students Less for More

By Reiland, Ralph R. | The Christian Science Monitor, September 6, 1996 | Go to article overview

Colleges Must Stop Giving Students Less for More


Reiland, Ralph R., The Christian Science Monitor


"For most of the 1980s, the rocketing costs of a college education looked like the trajectory of the space shuttle," says Robert Moskowitz in Investor's Business Daily. In 1979, the average four-year costs at a public college equaled 36 percent of the typical family's annual income, while the average price of a bachelor's degree at a private college equaled 84 percent of yearly family income. By 1994, those figures had jumped to 60 percent and 156 percent, as the rise in college prices outpaced the rise in family incomes.

Between 1980 and 1993, with the Consumer Price Index increasing by 75 percent, tuition rose by 211 percent at public colleges and by 242 percent at private colleges. What's driving up these prices is a surge in faculty compensation, a plethora of federal mandates, and an escalation in administrative personnel.

Since 1980, the average salary of professors at private colleges increased at nearly double the rate of inflation, while the salaries of professors at public universities outstripped inflation by 44 percent during the same period. In addition, as sabbaticals, travel, bonuses, and retirement packages became more generous, fringe benefits more than doubled in the past decade. Faculty and staff at Pennsylvania's 18 state-related and state-owned universities were compensated $28.4 million for sabbaticals and $75.9 million for travel in 1994 - nearly $6 million per school - in addition to receiving $28.6 million in free or discounted tuition for their dependents. Between 1975 and 1985, the number of professional support personnel in colleges - deans, vice presidents, equity officers, and various other planners - expanded six times faster than the number of students. At public universities, administrative costs per student are rising 19 percent annually, 4 times as fast as spending on teaching. This campus bureaucracy is now consuming nearly half of every instructional dollar. Administrators explain that arduous government regulations have mandated much of this escalation in bureaucracy. Government grants and accreditation, for instance, have increasingly been linked to the "appropriate" sexual, racial, and ethnic diversity on campus. It's not cheap to recruit minority faculty, increase student diversity, or banish Eurocentric biases from the curriculum. Such adjustments require costly surveys, departmental studies, administrative meetings, curriculum planners, and new faculty. Watered-down requirements English majors at Georgetown University, no longer required to read Shakespeare, can instead lift their consciousness in courses like "Women, Revolution, and the Media." By the late 1980s, reports Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, "it was possible to graduate from 78 percent of the nation's colleges and universities without taking a course in the history of Western civilization; 38 percent without taking any history course; 45 percent without taking an American or English literature course; 77 percent without taking a foreign language course; 41 percent without taking a mathematics course; and 33 percent without studying the natural or physical sciences. …

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