Home > Uncategorized > The “Extravagant College” Meme

The “Extravagant College” Meme

March 2, 2012

Many people ascribe the higher costs of college to the “fact” that colleges are spending more money on luxury items like climbing walls, student lounges, and fancy facilities. An article in today’s NYTimes includes a graphic that tells a different story, which is described in the following paragraphs:

State appropriations for colleges fell by 7.6 percent in 2011-12, the largest annual decline in at least five decades, according to a report from the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. In one extreme example, Arizona has slashed its college budget by 31 percent since the recession began in 2007.

It is this cumulative public divestment — and not extravagances like climbing walls or recreational centers advertised on a few elite campuses — that is primarily responsible for skyrocketing tuitions at state institutions, which enroll three out of every four college students.

Colleges have found ways to hold costs per student relatively steady. Since 1985, the average amount that public institutions spend on teaching each full-time student over the course of a year has barely budged, hovering around an inflation-adjusted $10,000, according to a State Higher Education Executive Officers report. But in the same period, the share of instruction costs paid for by actual tuition — not the sticker price, but the amount students actually pay after financial aid — has nearly doubled, to 40 percent from 23 percent.

The “extravagance” meme works for those who DON’T want to acknowledge that the federal and state governments have knowingly shifted the cost for higher education onto the “consumer”. In the article quoted above, the “consumer” is a community college student— often a first generation post-secondary student or an adult who has come to appreciate the need for a degree— and seldom someone who can write a check from a discretionary fund to bankroll their education. The result: more student debt.

What is frustrating about all of this is that NO politician in EITHER party is willing to ask taxpayers to dig a little deeper into their pockets so that those attending State funded colleges do not have to dig VERY deeply into their future earnings.


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