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Fixing College Through Lower Costs and Better Technology - NYTimes.com


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There is good reason for the anxiety. Setting aside the specifics of the Virginia drama, university leaders desperately need to transform how colleges do business. Higher education must make up for the mistakes it made in what I call the industry’s “lost decade,” from 1999 to 2009. Those years saw a surge in students pursuing higher education, driven partly by the colleges, which advertised heavily and created enticing new academic programs, services and fancy facilities.

The almost insatiable demand for a college credential meant that schools could raise their prices and families would go to almost any end, including taking on huge amounts of debt, to pay the bill. In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 a year for tuition, fees, and room and board; by 2009, 224 were above that mark. The total amount of outstanding student loan debt is now more than $1 trillion.

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From a professor I know:

There were some remarkable compacts made with different devils along the way.  Some have been perhaps self-imposed: 

"Students were not the only ones to go deeper into debt. So did schools, building lavish residence halls, recreational facilities and other amenities that contributed little to actual learning. The debt taken on by colleges has risen 88 percent since 2001, to $307 billion."

Colleges chose to compete for students by beefing up dorms, recreational facilities, etc. in a relentless push to spend money.  Everyone agrees that college is more plush than it used to be, which of course fits nicely with the current generation of entitlement-babies who want luxury and can apparently justify going into debt to receive their wants.

"Administrative expenses have grown faster than instruction on many campuses." True, and there are a few reasons. Most of the administration is related to the items mentioned above.  The whole office of Student Affairs, with myriad folks in residence life, student mental health, alcohol abuse prevention, etc., is not involved in academics although they like to say that the co-curriculum matters every bit as much as the curriculum.  If true, and who knows really, then the criticism is two-faced because if folks *want* and *value* all the amenities that are not academic, then they cannot complain about colleges spending money on them. In addition, we now need layers of NCAA people, student tutoring operations, ITS operations, world campus advisers (most of whom know nothing about academics), multicultural advisers, women's resource center folks, LGBTQ center folks, travel services, purchasing services, OPP....  the list goes on and on.  Universities in many cases decided it was either cheaper or easier (more control) to build their own departments for many services rather than contracting out to businesses that might shut down, behave in non-competitive modes etc., so we now own them.  The reporting requirements for federal programs are huge, ranging from Title I through all the other acts, and now of course ethics, Clery etc.  Most of that has been imposed on universities and we have no choice.

Not to say that all is well in academe.  But it is unfair to demand of colleges that they cater to the needs of students, and also fulfill federal mandates, and then yell at them for spending money on these endeavors.  If students want a return to the one-bathroom-per-hallway and the one-menu-choice-at-dining-hall lifestyle, we'd all save a lot of money! 

Still, something's gotta give.

Center does not hold. The current trends will destabilize everything at its current trajectory.

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