Arnold Kling  

College Tuition

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Why is college tuition so high? In an essay, I argue that colleges today offer more lifestyle consumption benefits.

college represents a different bundle of services than it did thirty years ago, and part of where the increase in tuition goes is to pay for this rise in aesthetics.

I also question whether colleges have kept up with the information age.

If freshman economics is going to be taught in large lecture format, then instead of 20 universities each putting a professor in front of 250 students, a single lecture could be broadcast to all 5000 students. My daughter's economic class was given by that distinguished lecturer, A. Warm Body, who seems to wind up teaching the majority of courses nowadays. With modern communication technology, this is inexcusable.

For Discussion. In the conclusion of the essay, I wonder whether the end result will be one in which the college is a brand name, but the actual function of education is outsourced to companies that hire professors and develop curriculum. Would this be effective in higher education?

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The author at The American Mind in a related article titled The Future of College writes:
    Arnold Kling has a vision of the college of the future: Colleges today are in a position to continue to [Tracked on September 21, 2003 6:12 PM]
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Don Lloyd writes:

Why is (posted)college tuition so high?

a. government subsidies
b. third party payer effect
c. Price discrimination, with a custom discount for everyone

Regards, Don

David Thomson writes:

The actual function of education almost certainly must be transferred to entities outside the physical campus. The lunatics now run the institution and it is virtually impossible to remove them.

One usually has to be an intellectual slut to make it today in academia. A person possessing any morals whatsoever doesn’t have a chance earning an advanced Liberal Arts degree. How bad is it? This is what Bruce Bartlett has to say about the matter:

“A survey by pollster Frank Luntz last year found that just 3 percent of Ivy League professors called themselves Republicans, with 57 percent belonging to the Democratic party. Among those voting in the 2000 election, Al Gore captured 84 percent of their votes. Just 9 percent voted for George W. Bush, barely more than the 6 percent who voted for Ralph Nader. Among the population as a whole, the vote for president was almost evenly split between Bush and Gore.”

Do I believe that only Liberals are responsible for the current decline? Nope, those of a more conservative temperament also share in the blame. Everyone should read Murray Sperber’s superb “Beer and Circuses.” Sperber provides ample evidence that the conservatives could care less about education. Only the football and basketball programs truly grab their interest. I cynically believe that there exists a tacit agreement between these conservatives and the academic Liberals: ”You guys and gals can do what you you wish about educating the kids. All we ask is that you essentially keep your hands off the big time sports programs!”

Andrew Martin writes:

I don't think you need to go much further than old Econ 101 fundamentals to solve this one. Demand for a college education is at an all time high. Since there are more students applying to colleges, they can raise prices. Also, higher tuition and increased fund raising targeted at parents and alumni allow for state university systems to become less of a drain on state tax revenue, especially now with state deficits the largest they've ever been. I also know that in the UNC system in particular there was a huge increase in building and renovation of campus building during the boom of the mid-late 1990s that is still under construction and in need of funding. Higher enrollment and substantially higher applicants allow for higher tuition. Thus the spending spree by campus administrators will continue.

Tim Swanson writes:

In addition to several points listed here, I think another reason that is often overlooked is the fact that getting a high school diploma is equivalent to obtaining a drivers license. It is almost meaningless in terms of being able to move up a corporate ladder, and relatively easy to get.

The fact that the State has moved in and transformed what used to be a filter for the workforce means that another filter needed to be used to do what highschools had done previously, and colleges have become that surrogate parent.

In addition to the belief that "everyone should attend college," politicians continue to lobby for ever expanding student bodies which crunches the supply pool of qualified professors (existing supply gluts or "overproduction" because of licensing regulations stating who can or cannot teach -- though that specifically is more of a problem in Primary/Secondary schools).

I attended Texas A&M University, we had the 3rd largest student body in the country (with 44k) and A. Warm Body was quite busy (I was surprised that any professor did in fact "lecture/teach" in lower level classes with the need to still Publish or Perish). As far as the price of tuition goes there, it was subsidized by the State, however based on my parents tax bracket, they were paying for me, Ima Emmigrant, the books for every classroom in a remote African school and $25,000 toilets used on military bases - for education purposes.

Anyways, I think there are a number of reasons why the costs for college tuition having risen, with the primary one being the interventionist role the State has taken.

Oh, and I just bumped into this essay, quite poignant for Primary Education:

Zimran Ahmed writes:

It's worth looking at opportunity cost also. 30-40 years ago, having a high-school diploma alone did not rule you out of many jobs, but now it does. So while the tuition may be higher than before, the cost of NOT GOING is higher too. Overall, things may turn out to be a wash.

It's also worth looking at returns to education. If the economy as a whole has changed to value education more highly (as I think it has), then returns to education should be higher too. In this case, education may turn out to be better value today than 30 years ago even if tuition is higher than before, because the payoff is higher yet.

--All the best,


Andrew Martin writes:

To touch on your second point, I think there are several reasons that technology replacing the classroom hasn't taken off. First, if you have a class with 5000 people exams are going to have to be basically administered like the GRE or SAT. Even with standardization of exams, quizzes, homework, etc, there will have to be a technical support network as well as a network of personnel to examine each question and somehow work to minimize cheating. All this might work for basic courses in history, math and the like but for more advanced classes, there would have to be hundreds of qualified TAs to read term papers and even short essays for english classes.

Secondly, requiring the students to have access to the technology is in itself a very controversial issue. I remember the debate over requiring laptops for incoming freshmen at my school. Since laptops are very expensive and since the only feasible way of requiring it would be to have every student buy the same type of laptop, there is the issue of leaving lower income students behind. It also wasn't until Christmas my sophmore year (1999) that my dorm room was wired to the internet or even had cable. Before then we relied strictly on dial-up access paid for by ourselves and bunny ears. Then we ran into the problem of what do we do about network access when we move off campus. Luckily my roommates and I were able to afford Roadrunner but you must consider what about students who live at home or are barely scraping by.

In Japan, I know of one language school that actually does offer its courses online through their multimedia center. There are also the online universities that seemingly flood my email account with spam. So such multimedia classrooms are not only possible but already out there. The thing is, I really don't see the elite schools or even the Community Colleges moving to such an extreme. However, that's not to say they don't incorporate technology into the classroom. It's just how many Powerpoint presentations on, let's say, "Globalization and Its Discontents" could you take before going homocidal?

Eric Krieg writes:

As someone who is slogging through a part time graduate degree via distance learning (closed circuit television system operated by the Illinois Institute of Technology) let me tell you that it SUCKS.

There is something to be said for being there in person. I'm the kind of person who interacts with the teacher during the lecture, and you just cannot do that easily over the television.

Now, you may argue that you can't do that either in a huge lecture hall. But every large section has smaller sections run by the TA, where you get SOME human contact. Again, not so with distance learning.

Of course, the flip side is the conveniance. I watch the classes at work, so I don't need to commute to the South Side of Chicago. Very cool.

The bottom line is that I don't think that there would be many sophmores if freshmen all took distance learning courses. They wouldn't have the discipline to actually learn the material without SOME handholding. Sophmore retention is bad enough now!

Matt Young writes:

I have nothing to add here, expect to say my son, in his first year at the college freshman dorm, knows more about professional football players than most professional coaches. He learned it all on the Internet.

If his college could develop his interest in business and economics then the Internet will do the rest.

Jonathan Wilde writes:

There is simply no reason college education should cost $20,000 a year. The reason it does is because the govt helps pay for it.

Andrew Martin writes:

I disagree with the idea that tuition is high because the government helps pay for it. UNC, for an instate student is much lower than that $20 grand for the precise reason that the state funds it. However, with the budget crunch and massive expansion plans due to higher enrollment as well as the much needed renovation of seriously outdated buildings, tuition will continue to rise. I don't see this trend being isolated to the UNC system. As mentioned above, most jobs that don't involve flipping burgers require a bachelor's degree. The squeeze is also being put on the graduate degree students because now more and more students are going back to school for the simple reason they don't want to become salesmen or unemployed and living at home. I think tuition is high mostly for the reason that demand is high. In many instances it is actually lower than it should be because of help from the state, not higher.

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