“For this amount of money, I should be getting way more than what I’m getting,” said the UNR student body president, who’s a senior in journalism. “It’s depressing.”
“The reality is that the costs of offering the education to the students at this time have not decreased, and in fact, have increased in many ways. And so we are struggling to, as an institution, maintain the quality of offerings, and to deliver them in an often a new format online, while doing everything we can to contain the costs and simultaneously absorb a substantial decrease in the funding that we receive from the state.” – Chris Heavey, interim executive vice president and provost at UNLV.
(Both quotes from the Nevada Independent.)
As one who spent eight very active years on Nevada’s Board of Regents for higher education, two years in the legislature and four years as state controller, taught part-time four years at one of our colleges, and has benefitted immensely from many years in higher education (graduate degree from Stanford and a law degree), I know the student in this case is right and the EVP/provost is missing the big picture.
This column will address numbers, most recently from Quillette magazine, buttressed over the years by many sources. Subsequent columns will explain the big picture of higher ed’s problems, what we can do about them and what may happen if we don’t.
For the class of 2019, 69 percent of American college students who graduated typically took longer than four years (81 percent) and ended with an average student loan debt of $29,900. And 14 percent of their parents took out an average of $37,200 in federal parent PLUS loans. Debt for students who dropped out along the way is unknown, and they didn’t get the full benefit for whatever their costs, because they didn’t get degrees.
American in-state public college tuition increased by 225 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, while median family income, reflecting folks’ ability to pay, over the same period rose only 24 percent. This long-term trend is one important fact. Worse, over the years colleges have separated out many services previously covered by tuition and charged “self-supporting” fees for them. Self-supporting revenues now are the largest portion of Nevada higher ed’s budget.
The provost’s failure to even acknowledge these problems suggests he doesn’t get the big picture. Instead, he talks about the near-term problems due to the Coronavirus and the shut-downs ordered by our governor and others. Real as they are, these problems will only hasten higher ed’s day of reckoning, as I’ll explain.
When I entered the University of Illinois in 1967, total annual undergraduate costs (in-state tuition, room, board, books, etc.) were estimated at about $1,800. Four years later, I finished, including having begun graduate work in math and physics, with a student loan debt of $800 and loans my parents forgave of $300. With some scholarship support and as many as four part-time jobs at once, I was able to put myself through college – a not uncommon experience then. And completely unknown now.
The Bennett Hypothesis, advanced by a renowned national higher ed leader, states that colleges raise tuition when financial aid is increased, as long-term experience has shown. Meaning the liberals and progressive’s universal solution – throw more public subsidies at the matter – is really the problem, as is so often the case.
Student debt now amounts to $1.67-trillion, a large part of our total public and private national debt, which long ago passed sustainable levels.
Where’s all the money going? Administrative bloat and emphasis on research over teaching.
Year after year, the number of administrators has grown, and in 2012 the number at public research institutions (such as UNR and UNLV) was roughly equal to the number of faculty. For eight years as a Regent, I tried to get administrator counts for Nevada higher ed and our two universities, both from the Nevada administrations and from other sources. I was stiff-armed at every turn by our people, who claimed they just didn’t have that data.
That may be true, because other sources didn’t report it, either. But if so, that’s because universities don’t want to collect the data.
More next time.