Everyone in America today seems frustrated with the status quo, especially college students who’ve recently made headlines protesting the racial climate on campus.
Racial equality is a noble ideal, and protesters would do well to engage in a civil discussion of the issue. But there’s another problem facing American college students – of all races and backgrounds – that has received scant attention from student activists: the cost of a college education.
Students today pay an exorbitant price for college, and much of that money is, quite frankly, wasted.
From the time they are very young, students are told by just about every authority figure that college is the primary – perhaps only – way to get ahead in life. It’s no wonder then that so many students and their families are willing to pay the tuition and enormous fees colleges charge today.
The average in-state tuition and fees at an American public university is now $9,410. An out-of-state student can expect to pay an average of $23,893 to attend a state university, and private universities charge an average of $32,405 in tuition.
Of course, none of these figures include the cost of living (room and board). This means that students are looking at an average investment of at least $50,000, and sometimes well over $100,000 over the course of four years (and some students take even longer to complete their degrees).
Students may be surprised to learn, however, that most of the money that colleges spend goes toward expenses that are not instruction-related. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, instruction accounts for only 27 percent of expenses for public universities and 33 percent at private universities.
Administrative costs account for an increasing share of costs at both public and private universities. The number of non-teaching professionals at public colleges has risen dramatically in the past couple decades, from 53 per 1,000 students in 1990 to 73 in 2010. At private universities, the numbers are even worse (72 in 1990 and 102 in 2010).
Often these administrators out-earn professors. In fact, experts have studied administrative spending and staffing and have determined this to be a major driver of increasing college costs.
Sadly, many of the recent protests about racial relations may only result in colleges spending more on “diversity” and “inclusion” positions in student affairs and the creation of new fully staffed multicultural centers. Ironically it will be lower-income students, many of whom are minorities, who will be the most affected by the associated rise in price.
The rest is spent on other facets of college life, including buildings, research, amenities, sports and extracurricular activities.
Of course, arguments can be made in favor of all of these things: Colleges need classrooms and equipment. Sports and extracurricular groups are American college traditions, and can add to the college experience in a meaningful way.
But some of this spending is frivolous at best and wasteful at worst. Students — many of whom likely consider themselves environmentalists — may be surprised to learn that “green construction” is a costly college endeavor, which often ends up with few results other than hefty bills.
These buildings can cost millions of dollars, and sadly, their environmental impact and promised long-run savings (due to purported energy efficiency) are questionable. Students shouldn’t be on the hook for such costs.
In addition to green construction, colleges have been known to spruce up their facilities with Jacuzzis and lazy-river rides, movie theaters, wine bars, climbing walls in fitness centers, and luxury “condo” dorms. Whether students enjoy these costly amenities or not, they pay for them. Surely, many students would prefer to attend less posh campuses in exchange for lower costs.
Students should take note: The costs associated with traditional educational expenses – books, computers, teaching faculty, etc. – have stayed flat or actually decreased in recent years. Technology is certainly more widely available and affordable, as most students now bring smartphones with them to campus.
Yet college, and the associated student loan debt, is one of the greatest costs that young Americans will face. This is truly reason for protest, and opportunity for real disruption and change.
Hadley Heath Manning is a senior policy analyst for the Independent Women’s Forum.