NYT has a story about a new study on US higher education that may explain its dramatic cost increases in recent decades. It’s the amenities, stupid.
Tuition, on average, rose more rapidly over the decade at public institutions than it did at private ones. Average tuition rose 45 percent at public research universities and 36 percent at community colleges from 1998 to 2008, compared with about 21 percent at private research universities.
But the trend toward increased spending on nonacademic areas prevailed across the higher education spectrum, with public and private, elite and community colleges increasing expenditures more for student services than for instruction, the report said.
The student services category can include spending on career counseling and financial aid offices, but also on intramural athletics and student centers.
“This is the country-clubization of the American university,” said Richard Vedder, a professor at Ohio University who studies the economics of higher education. “A lot of it is for great athletic centers and spectacular student union buildings. In the zeal to get students, they are going after them on the basis of recreational amenities.”
On average, spending on instruction increased 22 percent over the decade at private research universities, about the same as tuition, but 36 percent for student services and 36 percent for institutional support, a category that includes general administration, legal services and public relations, the study said.
At public research universities, spending for student services rose 20 percent over the decade, compared with 10 percent for instruction.
Universities say that funding the liberal arts is a continuing challenge. The idea is that prospective US students are too stupid to realize the value of a variety of majors to choose from, but will flock to the place with the nicest swimming pool. There’s plenty of money to go around in higher ed, but because universities are becoming corporatized, they’re marketing themselves in perverse ways and thus their social value.