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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Welfare for Colleges

One of the biggest non-stories that usually begins to pop up around this time of year is the "rapidly increasing cost" of a college education. (See this MSN story for a prime example. Headline:"Costs Soar at Public Universities"). The DLC, of course, has an answer: more federal money in return for limits on tuition increases. Now, I'm certainly no expert on the intricacies of federal education funding, and it might be that there are some good things in the proposal, but the idea that a university education is out of reach for seems to me faintly ludicruous.

According to the National Center on Education Statistics, average tuition in the US for four year, public universities was $5,038. (Private 4-year schools ran $17,777 and 2-year public schools ran $1,847). Some states are a good bit more expensive - Massachussetts is over $7,000, while New Hampshire is over $8,000 a year - but some are much lower, too: Georgia is less than $4,000 a year, Florida around $2,600, etc. (Note that I don't include room and board in the "costs", since whatever you're doing, you'll have to have a place to live and pay for food - it's silly to count that in with the "cost" of college). But to say that students can't afford those costs for a college education just isn't true. Even if you're a student with no help from parents or others, you can get yourself through college (even if you have to maybe take a couple of extra years to do it).

None of this is meant to defend universities per se, but merely to suggest that there just isn't an affordability "crisis" in American higher education.


Hunter Baker said...

Considering that four year colleges are ever more available and that one is less and less likely to have to leave home to attend one, the idea of the college education being out of reach is fairly ridiculous.

In so saying, I am not claiming it is easy for everyone to afford it, just that it is eminently do-able even for those of modest means.

Barry Vanhoff said...

Aren't gov't subsidies in part responsible for the rising cost of tuition (ie, they are inflationary)?

D said...

The amount of debt students graduate with is staggering, and you may be right about the accessibility of a college education, but only if interest free loans are more liberally granted (subsidise the student, remember). At the same time, the kind of students who go into colleges is a function of those who are able to get through high school. Colleges have been able to maintain a high standard of education (even if it takes one 4+ years) because they've adopted teaching accelerated lower level classes to a certain extent that lets students catch up even if they took no higher level math/science in High School (relatively speaking, higher level in a HS vs. higher level in a college). Improving high school education should, I think, yield greater amounts of HS graduates who go on to colleges.

I've mentioned before the fact that colleges practicing more and more basic and cutting-edge science in more fields than ever is the reason they've gobbled up more funding and endowments than ever before. Bio-informatics and Asynchronous Digital Processing were not research fields more than 5 years ago. Doing research in these areas requires no small labs. Meanwhile, the same basic physics and chemistry labs are still there doing what they've always done. Teach and expand a students understanding of basic chemistry and physics. This process must go on in a technological society like ours. Call it what you want, capital intensive or a resource hog.

Looking for relationships between subsidies and a rising cost of tuition is plainly dishonest. We can talk about tenure programs (which I'm not saying are inefficient) or inefficiencies in the system which may increase the cost of tuition, but to directly relate subsidies to an increase without evidence is wrong and perhaps anecdotal evidence at best.