Are University Fees Justified?
Widener Libary photo by wallyg
A university education is essential for everyone who wants to make something of their lives; and what parent doesn’t want to see their child succeed? Unfortunately, the skyrocketing cost of tertiary education means that fewer parents can afford to send their kids to university for four years, even two years is a struggle. The result is that many high school graduates are not bothering to apply for college and those that do are saddled with tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands(?)) of dollars of school loan debt.
National inflation be damned
University fees have a nasty habit of increasing way above inflation; a trend which occurs worldwide. In an article for Forbes, Steve Odland says that university fees in the US have been increasing by 7% per year (the national average is between one and two per cent). He adds that over the past 17 years the consumer price index (CPI) rose by 115%, but college inflation was about 500%. In anyone’s books 500% is a lot.
What do universities spend their money on, and is it justified?
Those are two very important questions. Bill Drestler, president of the Rochester Institute of Technology, doesn’t think the fees are justified because universities don’t spend their money in the right places (Huffington Post). For example, universities try to sway applicants to their side not necessarily with the quality of their education but with the comfort of their amenities. Drestler mentions food courts that offer the kind of variety that rivals the biggest malls and recreation centres that have the latest and greatest equipment in frighteningly large numbers. Never mind the luxury dorm rooms.
Universities also tend to spend an inordinate amount of money on sports programmes so that they can win prestigious national events. The result is less money spent on things like updating libraries and computer labs and the acceptance of more students who are more sport and less academically inclined.
Also, according to Drestler, universities are using their financial aid to lure brilliant students who will help their rankings rather than channelling significant portions to students who come from lower socio-economic communities, and rather than using the money to lower fees across the board.
Granted, there are justifiable expenses. Salaries have to be paid, staff benefits have to be covered, study materials and equipment have to be replaced, sanitation services and power bills are astronomical, and insurance is no laughing matter. But, given that university inflation is way beyond the national average, one can’t but help but think universities have to be joking.
The situation is dire
Times Higher Education takes a closer look at how university inflation is really affecting student numbers. The article references a McKinsey and Company survey called Education to Employment: designing a system that works. The survey covered nine countries, including the US, UK, India, Germany and Brazil and revealed that 35% of young people in the UK won’t attend university because they can’t afford the fees. In the US the figure is 48%.
What is the solution?
Well, President Obama has told universities that if they don’t curb inflation then they will lose out on government funding; which could actually drive up costs even more as universities look to make up the shortfall.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a possible solution. Currently, the abundantly available free courses don’t come with university credit but providers are already talking about changing that. It might involve a fee but it’s unlikely to be nearly as high as what colleges charge (online students would probably riot if they dared to try).
It’ll be interesting to see how the situation develops. At least it will be interesting for casual observers; for parents and students it will be something of a nightmare.
Written by Sandy Cosser on behalf of Now Learning, an education portal that promotes tertiary education in Australia, including short courses in MYOB and postgraduate courses in accounting.