Rapidly Increasing Higher Education Prices Raising Many Questions

Rapidly Increasing Higher Education Prices Raising Many Questions

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By Wirt Dunbar “Economists report that a college education adds many thousands of dollars to a man's lifetime income—which he then spends sending his son to college.” These words are those of the late columnist William E. Vaughan, who wrote for the Kansas City Star. Education enables the American Dream, but the cost of higher education in our country keeps thousands and thousands of Americans from attending a college every year.

 

U.S Average Wages in 2012 $41,444
Avg. salary without a high school diploma $23,452
Avg. 4-year college graduate salary $55,000
Avg. post-graduate degree salary $65,000

 

Increasing one’s education is definitely proven to have its rewards as shown above. Nevertheless, the thought of one day paying for education after secondary school has always been a chilling one for both students and parents across the United States. Every year, many Americans receive acceptance letters to schools they would like to attend, but are unable to because of the price. Similarly, many receive acceptance letters to their dream school, but in the end decide to attend another institution because they see better value in something more affordable.

So how has tuition cost in America changed over the past couple decades? Well, it has taken off in an outrageous manner. In his 2012 Forbes Magazine article College Costs Out of Control, Steve Odland writes, “Since 1982 a typical family income increased by 147% more than inflation but significantly behind the huge increase in college costs… Since 1985, the overall consumer price index has risen 115% while the college education inflation rate has risen nearly 500%.” The standard cost of attendance for Washington and Lee University has risen from $54,220 for the 2010-2011 school year to $61,310 for the 2014-2015 year. When one does the math, one realizes this is a 13 percent increase over 5 years. In fact, in a W&L blog post in 2011, President Ruscio explained how when he attended in the 70s, he was able to pay his tuition--$2400--largely with earnings from his summer job. No W&L student could do that today.

And why has tuition cost in America changed so drastically over the past couple decades? Recently there has been a lot of concern regarding the dramatic increase in administrative officers at our universities in the past decade. In his article Administrators Ate My Tuition, Benjamin Ginsberg writes, “In 2005, colleges and universities employed more than 675,000 fulltime faculty members or full-time equivalents. In the same year, America’s colleges and universities employed more than 190,000 individuals classified by the federal government as ‘executive, administrative and managerial employees.’ Another 566,405 college and university employees were classified as ‘other professional.’ This category includes IT specialists, counselors, auditors, accountants, admissions officers, development officers, alumni relations officials, human resources staffers, editors and writers for school publications, attorneys, and a slew of others. These ‘other professionals’ are not administrators, but they work for the administration and serve as its arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouthpieces.” Enrollment between 1993-2007 rose 14.5 percent. However administrators employed per 100 students rose 40 percent and spending on administration per student rose by 66 percent. (Odland)

While one can absolutely point to an out-of-hand increase in administrators, we have to realize competition between colleges is a major factor, if not the biggest factor, for the tuition increases. Colleges must sell their campuses to prospective students in one form or another. How an institution attracts its students ranges from all over but can include the creation of new academic facilities, athletic facilities, dining facilities, housing facilities, offering more campus services, not to mention the hiring of fine professors. College football programs have to fight over top recruits by impressing them on their visits, while a science department must impress scholars who are interested in studying or majoring in an area of study in the department.

In the future, it will be interesting to see if our national universities begin to focus more on affordability for students instead of looking for ways to one-up other universities with new buildings and the like. The recent tuition price increases America has seen are unsustainable for our future. Action must be taken in order to make higher learning more affordable for the average American, starting here at Washington and Lee.

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