Friday, November 12, 2010

Encouraging Colleges to Cut Costs

by Jonathan Robe

On Wednesday we released Part 1 ("Using Lower Cost Alternatives") of the CCAP report 25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College. Several outlets, including the Chronicle, picked up on some of our themes, particularly our call for colleges and universities to revisit academic employment policies including tenure (I guess at this point I must say goodbye to any readers from the Ivory Tower who would be aghast at the very thought of even broaching the subject). But this is a topic which is likely to grow in importance over time. A book, written by our good friend Naomi Schaeffer Riley, which is sure to spawn even more discussions in the near future on tenure, is coming out in the spring; I'm very much looking forward to it.

However, what really caught my attention over the past several days were other stories in the news which recapitulated (albeit entirely independent of our release of 25 Ways) some of the very ideas which we proffered in our report. For instance, Los Angeles Times ran a great editorial on Wednesday about the very large increases in tuition over the past couple of years at the state universities in California, increases in costs which are sure to hit middle-income families disproportionately harder than others. An excerpt from their editorial sounds almost like the first chapter of our report:
As painful as it is, the universities should consider reducing enrollment for a couple of years, pushing more students to start their college careers in the less-expensive community college system. And the Legislature should finally get up the nerve to impose significant fee increases — with waivers for those who cannot afford the added cost — at the community colleges, the one place in the state's higher-education system where fees are too low, by far the lowest in the nation. Middle-class families can easily afford an increase, which would fund more classes as well as fee waivers for low-income students. At a time when every penny counts, this would provide higher education for the most students at the lowest cost.
Also, what struck me about the ideas we included in our report is that we really aren't the first ones to come up with them. For example, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni has a neat guide on steps to take to cut college costs, including taking a look at tenure. Some of their other ideas we talk about as well in Part 1 of 25 Ways, and others we will discuss in the other four sections of 25 Ways which we will be releasing in the next several weeks. In other words, what we're offering isn't necessarily anything novel or earth-shattering; rather we're putting forth a renewed call for colleges and policy leaders to take concrete actions to lower costs and increase productivity instead of giving college a free pass for just paying lip service to those goals.

Update: In my original post, I forgot to include a link to this new study which purports to show that the cost of educating students is actually lower at 4-year master's universities than at community colleges. I'll have more to say about this paper in the coming days.

1 comment:

Frank said...

"(I guess at this point I must say goodbye to any readers from the Ivory Tower who would be aghast at the very thought of even broaching the subject"

Well, I'll answer that. In the STEM areas, faculty earn 20-40% less than the private sector. Take away the tenure incentive and you'll see more mobility between academia-industry and university salaries have to rise 20-40% to attract anyone.

We had a recent tenure denial double his salary and decrease his work hours from 65 to 40 hours/week by moving to industry. This is normal.

Let's concentrate on admin, student life, and sports costs that have driven tuition up. See the Goldwater report on the the growth of admin costs. At most U's faculty salaries have only kept up with inflation and faculty numbers have decreased with growing enrollment. The exceptions have been med, law, and the elite U's.