Seven billion dollars more for Perkins college loans, aiming at the wrong target again. Why are college costs escalating at the rates they do?

Here we go again, dealing with a problem by ignoring the problem. College costs are out of control, we all know that just as we know health care costs are out of control. The President wants to deal with the escalating cost of a college education by increasing the support for Perkins loans by $7 billion dollars. In other words, give more money to more people to pay for ever-increasing costs. No doubt many people will see this as a good thing, spending more always results in something good happening.

Just like with health care, throwing more money at the problem, insulating people from the problem and not addressing the real problem will get us nothing in return.

What is the real problem; well let’s ask the right question. Why are college tuitions escalating at the rates they are? Why does a college education cost what it does?

As with health care there are a number of reasons including; bloated professor salaries and related compensation costs, low teaching productivity from many professors, the perception that high cost adds high value, spending too much money on buildings, stadiums, administration, etc. than is unnecessary for the primary mission of education, lack of focus on a curriculum that accomplishes a specific goal resulting in thinking, qualified, skilled graduates.

We have made it a status symbol to send our kids to a prestigious college, a badge of honor to discuss how much we spent on a college education. Those stickers on the rear windows of our cars are not there to support the school, but to tell our friends and neighbors, hey we have arrived, and hey, we kept up with the Jones’s.

In doing so we are duped. We don’t ask about the efficient use of a college’s money (our money), we don’t look at budgets or building plans. We go to colleges with our hands out and on our best behavior begging for admission and what aid we can receive. We don’t hold the college accountable for the education it provides or for much else.

Just like with health care we are incapable of acting as consumers demanding efficiency, quality and value.

There is no reason for college costs to escalate beyond general inflation, to pay professors who write books and run consulting business $100,000 or more to teach a few hours a week. There is no reason to pay a $1 million a year to a college football coach or a college president for that matter (in the absence of solid performance measures).

Aren’t we stupid, we put limits on local community school spending to keep our taxes low, and meet budgets yet we deal with college costs by adding $7 billion more to the federal deficit?

What is most scary about all this is not that we are ignoring the problem, but that so many people buy into the idea that simply throwing government money are something, money we don’t have, accomplishes anything. Hey, it’s an election year, we all know that, but if we continue to be so gullible with this type of proposal, we have no right to complain. More money to pay for exorbitant charges is very likely to encourage increasing those charges, not the reverse. This is no different from when we changed health insurance from paying physicians with a fee schedule to paying on a reasonable and customary fee basis – escalating fees simply raised the fees allowed for payment…surprise, surprise!


2 replies »

  1. I think that the problem is not the salary of Professors. First I am not certain that a professor earning a $100,000 per year is a bad thing. I prefer to think that a good professor should earn at least that amount. The professor’s productivity may appear low but educating students at an institution is more then the 6 or 8 hours in the classroom. Reading the case work assigned to be sure the intended learning is occurring while not time in the classroom is nevertheless a very important part of the education. So while I might agree that paying a coach a ludicruous salary is questionable I would probably also hold that the sports program may be bringing millions of dollars back in the form of TV and other endorsements and so provided that the end result is revenue positive I would not take issues with that either, but if it isn’t then I agree that is a place to look for cuts.


    • My experience is that many professors have a great deal of time to write books, opinion pieces for publications and most time consuming run consulting and other businesses while teaching the same class over and over for perhaps six to eight hours a week, if that. I’m sure their salaries and benefits are not the top driver of costs, but certainly part of it. Something is wrong, that is for sure.


      Richard D Quinn Editor

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