Higher Education: Resources and Finance

By Seymour E. Harris | Go to book overview

Unfortunately IHL still do not keep their accounts in a uniform manner, although work of the National Committee on Standard Reports for Institutions of Higher Education since the Depression has helped greatly to improve the situation. But even today colleges differ on the unit to be measured, though the trend is toward the student credit hour. IHL also tend to study the costs per student credit hour for instruction, administration, and fixed charges. This approach is much to be preferred to an alternative--study of salaries, wages, materials, and the like. The latter should supplement cost studies by functions, not supplant them.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty arises from the manner of allocating overhead to each function. One difference arises from the expenditures allocated --e.g., all, administration, library, operation and maintenance of plant. Where operation and maintenance were allocated in one study, four used square feet of physical space, and four used square foot-hours of space. But in the last chapter, alternatives were discussed more fully.

IHL are increasingly interested in cost studies, though the enthusiasm, partly induced, is greater among public IHL. Such studies can clarify many issues: if graduate instruction is four times as expensive as undergraduate, college administrators may wish to modify the proportion of graduate and undergraduate students. If a course in botany costs six to seven times as much as one in chemistry per student credit hour or if the cost in chemistry per student credit hour is eight times as large in one IHL as in another, some examination of the differences may be helpful. Again, the relation of unit costs and the size of enrollment in schools and departments are relevant. One medical school may cost fifty times as much as the law school per student in the same university. This ratio may be worth investigating, and in relation to similar ratios in other universities, as well. Where administrative costs relative to total costs vary as much as they do among similar IHL, the problem may be worth further study.

But I end this chapter with a warning from one educator.1

If this university accepts the responsibility for rounded curricula, islands of these high-cost courses may be numerous. Cost accounting can disclose which courses, departments or divisions are high cost per student hour, but cost accounting cannot decide whether the courses should be offered or abandoned. . . . The decision to offer such a marginal course needs to consider cost, but it should not be influenced or determined by the vague feeling that high student-hour courses are somehow reprehensible in themselves and should be discouraged.


FOOTNOTE
1
A great deal of material is available for the study of costs. I found particularly helpful in writing this section the following:
A Study of Methods Used in Unit-cost Studies in Higher Education, NationalCommittee on Standard Reports for Institutions of Higher Education Bulletin 3

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