How College Costs Got Out Of Control
"Oh, those evil universities!! They raise prices everywhere they can in order to make money on the backs of hard working and self sacrificing students!! They need to be reigned in so that we can better enact student debt reform!!!"
You have likely heard this, or something very similar recently, however, the interesting thing is that it is only partially true.
Not that you will hear that particular truth in the majority of analysis out there. You see, it is easier to just blame the colleges rather than to look at the problem holistically
I currently work for a private university, and I have been with them for five years. Not as long as some, but longer than the majority of Americans. With that understanding, let us start with the obvious. Universities, by and large, are raising prices due to a glut of funding availability. If the money is there to be taken, they would be business foolish to leave it on the table. That said, let us take a moment to ask WHY they are doing so. Is it really just about padding coffers?
Contrary to what most people believe, these universities are not just throwing the money in the bank. Their endowments are perpetual and interest access only accounts, so there is no need to put more money there. They do put a lot of it into scholarship endowments, but that is not income to the school, it is the school giving itself the ability to accept the best students without requiring them to be able to afford to go to school, so that is not really it either.
No, the majority of the cost increases that the schools have done is all in administration. That may surprise some of you, but most of you it will not. The bigger question you have to ask yourself is, "why?" You will regularly hear me say that government screws up everything it touches, and college education is no different. The Federal Government can blame colleges over and over for price increases, but if they really want to know why the cost is ever inflating, they need to look in the mirror.
The first cause of increase is the lengthy and ever expanding reporting that must be done to the department of education. Metrics, graduation rates, pass rates, student lists by every imaginable metric from degree type to GPA, and so many others I cannot begin to name them all. Because of all of this reporting, most schools have had to increase the registrar's office staffing as well as add a Vice President of Academics or Academic Affairs to handle the academic parts that the registrar's office used to.
A VP needs and executive assistant, so there is another salary, and they will require a staff to do the work since the registrar's staff is busy doing work for the government. This reporting also requires time from the professors, which they often do not have, so you have to hire teacher's assistants, or at least department assistants, to help with the compiling of information and data for transmission to the Feds.
Then, on top of that, you have Title IX, and its VOLUMOUS reporting requirements. In fact, it is so big that most schools have had to hire an entire department, called the Title IX Department or some such, to handle everything. It requires a VP or Dean of Title IX Compliance, an Administrative Assistant, a full staff, and often grad studies student workers as well as student interns. The sheer cost to the schools of Title IX compliance cannot be overstated, and that is BEFORE we talk about having to create additional teams/programs with all of their administration and everything else that comes with it.
Everything the Feds demand needs someone to oversee it.
By the way, every time you add another aspect to Title IX, like say, LGBTQ+, it requires another staff branch to compile reports and operate that concentration to ensure compliance.
Finally, at least for the purposes of this article, you have the financial aid staff who attempt to help students navigate the labyrinth of shifting requirements for Federal Student Financial Aid, when it is forgivable, how much of it is grants, how to pay off the loans, and on and on, and you also have to have a SECOND staff to ensure that the first staff is staying in compliance with the Federal standards.
The Financial Aid Departments of most colleges could be their own medium sized business because of all of the hoops that they have to jump through constantly, the reports they have to generate, and the sheer volume of paperwork they have to process. Every one of those jobs costs money, every, single, one.
Now, there are also secondary effects as well. Things like having multiple Administrative Assistants to the President of the University each dealing with a different part of the process to ensure that he is fully aware of any and all issues. The new cabinet positions to oversee the operations, the increased board of directors size to provide the governance required by most schools educational charters.
And to make it all worse, IT KEEPS ON GROWING!!!
So when the Press Secretary gets up and talks about the ever increasing cost of college attendance, or a news anchor gets up and blasts colleges for constantly raising their costs, or the Vice President gets up and paints those who took out student loans as victims of predatory colleges, remember, the ones saying that are likely a part of the problem, and they are not willing to solve THEIR contributions to it, they just want to put it all on the colleges.
Can colleges do better? Yes, without a doubt. That is why I am so very proud to work for an institution that has fought hard and made numerous sacrifices to keep our cost of attendance low. Heck, you can get a 0 to 124 CH Bachelors Degree for between $47-55,000, full cost. The majority of Colleges in America are charging that per year. It takes an incredible amount of discipline, and a lot of sacrifice on the part of the employees of the college. Yet when educating people is your God given mission, you are willing to make sacrifices to do it.
Most schools, however, are not Christian anymore, at least not in more than name, so you cannot expect them to make those same sacrifices.
They will always respond to increased Federal requirements by raising costs for students.
After all, compliance is not free, and someone has to pay for it.