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A summer job paid tuition back in ’81, but then we got cheap (seattletimes.com)
132 points by hudibras 1488 days ago | hide | past | web | 184 comments | favorite



Robert Birgeneau, the chancellor emeritus of Berkeley, spoke at a fundraising event I attended and said something I thought was poignant:

"The University of California has gone from being a state-funded institution, to a state-sponsored institution, to a state-located institution."

The level at which the State of California funds the university is practically nothing at this point. Alumni donations have filled some gaps but don't nearly cover everything. Tuition has increased to the point where even I, who graduated in 2006, consider it ridiculous. It is now over 8 times the maximum semester tuition I paid.

I can't imagine considering Berkeley a "great value" anymore, as I did when I was there considering the (excellent) quality of education versus the price. It used to be a sense of pride; that a public university could be so great, to prove the experiment, to show that society could produce academic excellence without falling to the vices of money and the divisions that come with it. Now that experiment has failed, and only those who believe in it strongly—the Alumni and supporters—are upholding it, but that's not sustainable.

We need to grow up. This fantasy of American individualism is killing us. We need to grow up and learn how to share—and this is the worst part: as we once did.


UC actually does raise a lot of money. Last year, Berkeley raised about $400mil from private donations, compared to about $650mil for Harvard and over a $1bil for Stanford. However, those institutions are including a med school. If you add Berkeley and UCSF (a stand alone med/health sciences research university), it goes up to about $730 mil.

Of course, most of this goes toward research, which is probably a big part of why Berkeley hasn't really slipped much (if at all) in graduate standings (UCB actually has more PhD programs in the top 10 than any other university, according to the NSRC). The problem is, what to do with those pesky undergrads.

Stanford and Harvard solve the problem by not enrolling all that many of them, charging a sky-high tuition, and then providing very very substantial financial aid even into the middle class (Harvard will charge 10% of family income to students from families earning between $120-$180k a year). The problem on a societal level is that this doesn't scale, there just aren't enough spots. Berkeley alone enrolls more low income students than the entire ivy league combined.

I'd rather see Berkeley continue this tradition at the undergrad level than emulate an elite private college. But it isn't going to work without state funding. The state just can't demand a huge undergraduate enrollment with lots of low income students and a high (70+%) from California without also kicking in a lot of money.

There's a reason Stanford and Harvard are structured this way - this is the optimal way to run an elite private research institution - more graduate students than undergraduates, and lots of grants and private donations, along with a small but very elite and well heeled undergrad population, with extremely generous financial aid to small numbers of low income students.

Berkeley was different because it was a state supported school with a different mission - and a different and substantial source of funding. You can't keep the first without the second, it won't work.


I think the vast majority of people are okay sharing when they can see things moving towards some sort of mutual benefit. For example, funding students in STEM, medicine, etc.

But now we have programs like "[choose "minority" group] Studies" and we talk those students as seriously STEM.. or worse, we consider the STEM students as an afterthought.

Also, if tuition is now 8x what you paid before, I would suggest that there's a problem with the program itself and not necessarily how we're funding it.


Those "[choose "minority" group] Studies" programs were en vogue far more in the 80's and 90's, the subject of this piece, than they are now. They're also ridiculously cheap to provide, along with being the first to go when budget cuts get serious.

And if you think that the vast majority of people would be willing to pay a little bit more for STEM kids to go to school... I don't even. Very few people out there care what you study in school, and considering some sort of social ROI for undergrad majors is about the last thing on most peoples' minds. Even if there is concrete proof that its better for the whole of us in the first place.


Why would they get rid of them if they're cheap to provide? I thought the general rule was that the humanities subsidized the sciences, why cut the profitable portion?


Because they're small programs that aren't missed by most. And the rule of thumb that humanities and social science programs subsidize sciences seems a bit misleading. There are an enormous amount of other funding sources within the American system (federal government, industry, military) that patronize science programs. There isn't a comparable system on the other pillar of the academy.


Just because there are some majors that you object to ("get off my lawn") and deem worthless that a handful of students choose, you're willing to throw out the whole system, including making STEM degrees just as difficult to get as the rest of them. Nice. That's just brilliant. You're an asshole and probably a bigot.


While that's my bias, I believe the stats back it up. For example, in all the hand wringing about "recent college grads not being able to get jobs" there's always the implied (and rarely stated) "except for STEM majors."

Since society deems people outside STEM qualified to do basically nothing, we should take that as a warning sign that something is very wrong with the system.

It's like if everyone who worked at a restaurant refused to eat there. You have to start wondering what's going on.

(Also, I never said throw out the whole system, that is your straw man.)


The idea that a university education is only for job training is poisonous. The humanities teach critical thinking and broaden students' perspectives in a way that STEM programs, in general, completely fail to do.

If we were to convert to a STEM-only curriculum, I would be gravely concerned for our future.


> If we were to convert to a STEM-only curriculum, I would be gravely concerned for our future.

Amen. I remember this study which said that studying English Lit. reduces police brutality. This makes sense. If a policeman has to read Steinbeck in college, this makes him think about his clients and the nature of the law that he has sworn to uphold.


What negative consequences do you believe would occur?


They are legion, but here are a few: - a less informed citizenry - increasing fundamentalism - increasing conformity - the loss of high culture - the triumph of materialism and external symbols over internal development - religion and politics even more dominated by strident name-calling

These things are happening already, and I attribute that partially to the fact that the humanities have already been gutted, intellectually as well as financially.


I find this quite ironic considering the first response to my comment was one of the humanities advocates calling me an asshole because I disagreed with him.


There's nothing wrong with taking english classes as part of a STEM degree. I think it's VERY rare not to.

I'm also not sure why you think critical thinking skills are something that math and science don't require. If you don't have critical thinking skills, you'll have a hard time engineering anything that works or mathing out something correctly. What makes this biased assumption especially weird is the fact that you can actually check whether someone critical thought something out or not to a correct conclusion in the science and math fields. If anything, it's the humanities that need to prove they've anything to contribute to their students' critical thinking skills, because the job market seems to be finding them lacking lately.


There's a lot of thinking in engineering, but not much critical thinking.

The type of thinking involved in STEM is mostly instrumental rather than critical. It's about mastering techniques and learning "how".

Critical thinking, on the other hand, is about asking questions, especially reflective questions that are more "why" than "how". It's about examining taken-for-granted assumptions and considering alternative perspectives.

In general, it's much easier to see your assumptions when you are confronted with people who have very different ones. Every age has its dogmas. Studying history, philosophy, and foreign cultures usually opens our eyes to them.


I disagree with this, strongly.

I was a double english and math (cs-emphasis) major. I went to grad school in Industrial Engineering/Operations research because I wanted to study a field where engineering type thinking is applied outside the traditional engineering fields.

The things I've learned in engineering and science classes constantly influence my thinking outside these fields. For example, I recently did a computer science programming assignment (coursera data structures) about percolation and phase transitions. Immediately, I started seeing the model in so many things - vaccine coverage in a population where people start to opt out, availability of housing, the dating scene as people start to pair off and get married. Any probabilistic process where things seem steady state until the last moment, and then a sudden shift occurs. I know my example may be a little trivial, but that's the point - some of these are silly, and probably very misapplied, but other times, they lead to extraordinary insight. My thinking about a very wide range of things is deeply influenced by may background in math and engineering. I constantly build math models in my head when I read the news. I see it as a basic form of literacy - and you only get it if you really engage with the kind of difficult math typical of STEM fields.

I really think that humanities students are in greater danger of ending up narrowly focused than science students. Even if I hadn't majored in literature, I (like most STEM students) would have had to take a substantial amount of history, art, literature, foreign languages, and so forth as part of my GE requirements in college. The math and science requirements are typically far less rigorous for humanities majors.

It's a terrible mistake to think that math, science and engineering aren't essential components of a broad, liberal education.


My message must have been unclear, because you think you disagree with me, but I completely agree with you :)

Let me just say: math is wonderful. Science is wonderful. You're absolutely right that math provides a rich source of models and metaphors for understanding the most diverse domains. Everyone should study them!

Yet I don't feel the need to sing the praises of math and science. Why? Because nobody doubts their value. But people do question the value of the humanities. They even imply that they are worthless and should be eliminated. And that seriously concerns me, because in my opinion, they are invaluable. They represent a huge portion of our cultural inheritance, and yes, they teach things that are not found in STEM subjects.

Two important things that the humanities teach are history (knowing how we got here and why) and what I previously called "critical thinking". I realize now that that term is too ambiguous. People think I mean something like "good thinking" or "novel thinking", which are certainly present in STEM as well.

What I intended is much more specific than that. It's the ability to question our assumptions about ends. Science asks about how things are. The humanities ask about how things ought to be. It's an alltogether different domain of inquiry.

Whether it is literature, philosophy, painting, or theater, a humanistic work proposes an ideal for human life. Over time, great works in the humanities dramatically alter our collective understanding of what is good and worthwhile. They help us ponder our destiny.

Popular culture does not do that for us. It is driven by business interests and rarely makes detours into the pursuit of serious questions. The humanities do. They are our sincerest and most persistent attempt to get to the bottom of what really matters.


Yes, clearly critical thinking and the scientific method have nothing in common.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_thinking#Skills https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientific_method#Elements_of_...

Obviously, no scientist or engineer has ever stopped to ask themselves "why does it..." or "what if it doesn't actually do..." or "maybe it's not x, but y instead?"

It'd be wise to remember that the sciences were once called "natural philosophy."

Liberal arts courses on the other hand are mostly memorization and regurgitation of the ideology currently favored by the academia's current regime. Before they moved to "~ studies" majors, liberal arts majors used to study the works written and drawn by scientists and mathematicians and engineers. It's easy to see why the humanities would prefer "critical thinking" to be redefined as something fuzzy enough to require no original thought or even an attempt at reaching a logical conclusion.


I'm not a scientist, so it's harder to speak to that, but as an engineer, I can definitely say that engineers are in general more interested and more skilled at asking questions of "how" rather than questions of "why".

When I studied the humanities, I read Euclid, Galileo, Darwin, etc. The history of science is an essential part of the humanities. Unfortunately, it is not part of "STEM" in the sense that politicians use that term.

Scientific revolutions are definitely a case of "natural philosophy", but that differs dramatically from "normal science" as described, for example, in the Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I am likewise concerned that movement towards a jobs-oriented STEM curriculum will actually retard the progress of the sciences, by producing more functionaries and fewer deep-thinking scientists capable of innovation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Normal_science


Exactly.

One of the major discussions in my engineering program is that there isn't a "right" answer like there usually is in regular math.

Instead, there's a "best answer given the current circumstances and limitations."

It becomes entirely about the How and the Why.


In my experience at a college with a large engineering program, the S and M parts of STEM has a large emphasis on critical thinking and the TE do not. That's only one data-point though.

Also the school was so heavily STEM focused that I wouldn't trust any of the liberal arts students there to reason their way out of a paper-bag.


The type of thinking the humanities and social sciences teach is the type of thinking that asks "should we be doing this?" or "what will the repercussions of technology X be?". These are questions that STEM graduates don't typically ask, are not trained to ask, and maybe should not be trained to ask too often because it would retard their creativity.

However, the questions are still important, someone needs to ask them. Just because business has devalued these sorts of questions does not prove that they are unimportant. This web site is filled, on an almost-daily basis with stories of corporate malfeasance and straight-up incompetence. Yet you are willing to use that broken system as a metric for the value of various sorts of education and thought?


As a formally trained engineer, we had to go through numerous classes and discussions on engineering and business ethics specifically. Luckily, most of the discussion boiled down to "don't be an ass" and "breaking the law is usually bad."

In fact, the lead engineer behind the Hyatt bridge collapse spent a good deal of time with us talking about how poor practices and oversight can cost careers and lives. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyatt_Regency_walkway_collapse


As a STEM student, I ask these questions, have been trained to ask them, and like to consider myself quite creative. So many people forget that the philosophers studied by liberal arts students were often mathematicians and men of science, as well. STEM graduates aren't the people getting only half of an education, here. In fact, if historical trends continue, humanities students 500 years from now will be studying the stuff they write.


I'm not saying that burying your head in a book on ancient philosophers constitutes an education. I am certainly a proponent of a truly liberal education. However, I get quite annoyed by arrogant STEM-types who pin the problem on what they perceive to be a collection of "useless" humanities and social science programs.

Again and again people say that engineering graduates are basically illiterate and that they should be taught to write. This is an excellent example of a situation where "more STEM!!!" isn't a solution. Our problem is over-specialization in undergraduate curricula, and this is evident across virtually all disciplines. But the attitude that "those <insert department here> people are worthless hippies" prevents us from solving this problem.

Education has many uses. Some of them are highly practical (get a job, grow food), and others are somewhat less practical (or, at least, their practicality is less obvious), but just as important IMO (understand society and government, deal thoughtfully with social issues). The ideal would be to educate most people broadly and some more specifically in each area. But inter-area bigotry and dismissal prevents us from achieving that first part.


You're equivocating merit of a college program with employability.


You implied that public funding is not a worthwhile undertaking. This means that the whole system gets thrown out. We don't fund certain programs, we fund universities.

Beyond that, I think that training people to think about the problems we have as a society and to come up with and advocate for solutions to those problems is extremely mutually beneficial. Partly because of public funding, universities have traditionally been hotbeds of social activism and progress. This won't happen if these institutions are transformed into mere job-training centers.


Computer Science can often have one of the highest percentages of graduates who can't find a job. We all know that people are leaving university and being unable to code. Maybe we should scrap CompSci then?


Is your best argument really calling someone an asshole just because, you know, he has a different view than yours? You could also try to find a typo in his comment just to further strengthen your argument. </grumpy_mode>


Pointing out that colleges now offer programs where you learn absolutely nothing at all, in a frantic bid to rake in more ridiculous tuition dollars, isn't bigotry. It's actually a pretty solid observation.

There are a lot of four year programs that teach nothing more than bland repetition of "white cis straight male bad, trans queer POC woman good" these days. And I say that as someone in several of the latter groups!


They are always used as a bogeyman, but relatively few people major in those * Studies programs. The top major is always Business, followed by Psychology. Rounding out the top 5 is usually education, biology and communications.


It makes sense that public universities would become more expensive (because of state funding being cut), but what explains private universities raising their tuition so much?

http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76


The stagnant NIH and NSF budget. High-end research is expensive, and the money to keep the place running has to come from somewhere. If it isn't from federal grants it has to come from tuition.


This. I was part of a program managing NASA grants, mostly to universities. The University overhead was atrocious, in a few cases approaching 40%. Of course that's just how the industry works, which means grant agencies get accustomed to it and start giving out higher grants to compensate, and the subsidy increases.

Sequestration must have hit universities hard.


what!? if universities can't have their research funded by grants, they just don't do the research. if a professors grant funding gets cut and he can't pay that grad student any more, they don't pay the grad student out of tuition funding, they just let them go.


This is what is happening right now in higher education, it is going through a structural change. MIT and Harvard will continue to be fine, at Purdue and Carnegie-Mellon they have to struggle a little harder, but they will be fine. Lesser places have no chance.

I cannot see how they will deal with it. In my department 80 % of the undergraduates go up to medical school. Up to now, the deal was that you had to have some kind of research experience as an undergraduate to be accepted at a decent school, but this is going to change, as grant income is shrinking. No cash, no research, no honour's theses. The current plan is that they hired several new professors in a bid to get grant income, but this isn't going to succeed.

Half of the full professors here have no grants. The social contract has always been that professors pull in grant money, that is what justifies their salary, as compared to teaching-only staff. But now they haven't got grants and won't get any ever, and you can't explain that to the taxpayer.

I don't think anyone has a plan, going forward.


Price is not always based only on cost, but also on prestige. People think more expensive things are worth more. Once the public universities cost more, then that means they must be better, right? Quick! Raise the rates for Harvard, we have to appear the best!


California is an entirely different level of crazy. You guys are steadfastly determined to pay way more than you need to for services that usually kinda suck.

Hell, there was a reality show that visited people doing jobs that made things in the US when they visited the San Francisco fire department's ladder factory. Yes, the SFFD manufactures it's own ladders. (http://www.sf-fire.org/index.aspx?page=1004)

I live in NY, which is similarly insane. The per-pupil costs to send a kid in my small-city school district (plus fund the gaggle of Charter schools) is over $26k/year per student. I could literally send my child to a catholic school for 50% of that, or an elite non-religious private school for about 75% of that sum.


> We need to grow up. This fantasy of American individualism is killing us. We need to grow up and learn how to share—and this is the worst part: as we once did.

Reminds me of the very first chapter of The E Myth book (good little book if you haven't read it).


Since it has such a reputation for great STEM programs, I looked into Berkeley when I was trying to find colleges to transfer to after I got my associate's. The cost for an OOS student is something like $50,000/year now, without any hope of institutional grants or scholarships to lessen the cost (they make it pretty clear they're not available for OOS students). I don't have access to even half that amount per year in loans!

Since California clearly didn't want me, I'm going to NY instead now, since they are very friendly to OOS students. (At my public college, tuition is basically free for me after the first year, and even the first year where I have to pay OOS tuition it's roughly the same cost as in state tuition in the crappy flyover state I'm in now.) California should really think about revising their financial aid and tuition policies if they want to be known for being anything other than someplace only the rich can afford. I guess the days of colleges being known and valued for the academic merits of their students are over.


I earned half my undergrad tuition for Syracuse University (in no way an "inexpensive" school) working summer & part time, parents providing the other half from what they saved. No debts. No socialism. American individualism works.

ETA: individualism does not preclude working hard to save resources for your offspring (no strings attached at that), or anyone else you choose to assist entirely at your own discretion. Individualism does not require one start life under a rock and never accept gifted assistance. There is a profound difference between helping those you brought into this world, vs compelling strangers to give up their earnings for people they never met.


Today without any tuition assistance, the tuition for a year of undergrad study at Syracuse is tens of thousands of dollars. If you are having to feed yourself and pay rent while paying this tuition, the vast majority of available part time or summer jobs will not pay enough to meet even half of your financial needs.

Also:

> parents providing the other half from what they saved

and

> American individualism works

are contrary. You didn't do anything on your own to get the money your parents provided. This is not individualism, you relied on your existing social networks to meet your financial needs.


Well, duh. Handouts from parents = rugged individualism. Crush those lazy welfare peons who haven't worked hard enough to have rich parents!


Me too! Except that I also got a job that paid that much because my parents lived in the kind of neighborhood where Stanford-educated engineers with connections live and being known as the smart kid got me a job instead of beat up in school.

American individualism is great. There is just enough meritocracy so that people who were born with every possible advantage short of a trust fund can feel comfortable saying that they are totally self-made.


Is this a joke? American INDIVIDUALISM works because you were able to afford college with your parents paying for half? Not to mention that the ENTIRE POINT is that tuition costs have gone up past the level most students can afford, which you seem to be confirming, as you say you can only afford to pay half.

Good god man, I cannot imagine typing this and not having my self awareness alarm going off like crazy.


Evidently the quality of the education is not going up in accordance with the price.


Boy, if only I had worked harder, I could have had well-off parents too!


I like how your brand of "individualism" relies on your parents paying for most of it.

I don't know if you've noticed, but your school costs $60,000/year now.

http://www.syr.edu/financialaid/costofattendance/

For comparison purposes, a minimum wage worker employed full-time (forty hours per week for 52 weeks), would earn $15,080 annually. Are you seriously suggesting that someone work for four years in between each year of their college education?


Lots of folks would be debt-free too if they were on the hook for just half of tuition. Most I know from good public universities worked full-time and still couldn't pull it off without five figure debt four years later.


I'm currently a student at a public school. I work 20-25 hours a week during the school year (with a job that pays well for a student) and have a paid internship over the summer. I will be graduating with ~$35K in debt. When you add up COL and tuition, even at a public school, you can't do it working part time.


Nice "American Individualism" as you relied on your parents to fund half your college expenses.


$23/hr?* Doable, although not at most unskilled-labor rates.

* http://www.syr.edu/financialaid/costofattendance/

Total Cost of Attendance $57,450

(That does include transportation and "personal expenses", though (to the tune of about $1600/annum).)

Assumptions

* 2000 billable hours * 3 months summer * Half-time remaining 9 months.


Sort of. The cost of higher-education skyrocketed when the government got involved in the student loan business. It became easy to get loans for higher-education and then tuition skyrocketed with the suddenly available capital.

There other contributing factors as well; for example, the rise of the ridiculous requirement to have a college degree to get anything close to a decent job these days has created tremendous demand for degrees and allowed colleges and universities to raise tuition into the stratosphere.


That's true at some universities (especially private ones), but costs don't explain the results everywhere. In the University of California system, the per-student cost of providing education has actually gone down: total university-system expenditures divided by number of students produces a number about 20-25% lower today than it was in the '70s, in real-dollar terms.

Why has tuition gone up, then? The state of California has cut its per-student funding to less than half of what it used to be, which leaves a substantial gap even after the cost improvements.

Here are some funding numbers I compiled, via the rough-estimate method of taking the state allocation to the system and dividing by its undergraduate enrollment: http://www.kmjn.org/misc/uc_funding.txt


I'm one of the few who paid for his college tuition out of pocket. Not in the 80's; I graduate this December. I'm not rich, I live like a pauper. I've worked multiple jobs, I've done intense internships, and with the money I've made I've paid for as many classes as I could afford each semester. It's been 7 years now since I started college, and I'll be graduating after one more semester. I just recently found a company willing to hire me full time with just the promise that I will be a graduate in the near future. If I don't graduate in December, my salary gets cut (further limiting my ability to graduate). It's not good enough that I've been working in my industry for five years; I need a degree too.

I feel that people who pay their college on student loans don't really feel the full impact of how much their tuition cost them until it's far too late. People like me feel it all too well. Most of my friends have graduated and have nice jobs, taking vacations in Europe, and going to see the doctor (what I wouldn't give for health insurance...). They criticize me for not having graduated yet. But we'll see which plan pays off in the long run.


Actually the loans may very well have been a better deal for you. You have sacrificed three years of income (assuming you finish in seven years instead of four). If you would have been able to command $50,000 per year, but instead made, say, $20,000 per year, then you've left $90,000 on the table. That is your opportunity cost (as the economists say) for being debt-free. So unless your loans would have been greater than that amount, you should have just borrowed the money and finished sooner, then lived cheaply and paid down your debt.


Congratulations on your coming finish line. Hard to say if the loans would have been worth starting higher paying work a few years earlier, or not, but at least you are doing it instead of giving up!


Strongly disagree. The example used in this article is the University of Washington. The government has always been involved in every facet of the University of Washington as it is run by the government. You seem to be claiming that because the government dropped their share of covering a student's tuition from 90% to 30% and allowed them to take out a loan instead, they were suddenly willing to pay a lot more money to go to school, which is absurd.

You don't give nearly enough credit to what you call "other contributing factors." What happened was an economic sea change. Years ago upon graduating high school you had options. You could go get a job in manufacturing and make good money right away and live a solid middle class life. For many, college was an unattractive option. Today, our manufacturing base has been destroyed. When you graduate high school today, what options do you have besides go to college? There are simply not enough good paying jobs that don't require a college degree to go around. Not even close.

I think ultimately you are mixing up cause and effect. The government is involved in the student loan business because college education has increasingly become the only path to a middle class life. Our education policy is reactive, not proactive. When the government plows the streets of snow it tends to be snowing. It doesn't mean the government caused the snow.


Today, our manufacturing base has been destroyed.

The USA manufacturers more than it ever has. However, it does so with fewer workers, just like the agricultural revolution moved us from 90% of people needing to be farmers to 2%.

When you graduate high school today, what options do you have besides go to college? There are simply not enough good paying jobs that don't require a college degree to go around. Not even close.

I agree with these facts, but probably not your conclusion. A lot of jobs that supposedly require college education really don't require a college education at all. However, since so many people have a college education, employers are free to use the presence of a bachelor's degree as a test for your socioeconomic status.


> The USA manufacturers more than it ever has. However, it does so with fewer workers, just like the agricultural revolution moved us from 90% of people needing to be farmers to 2%.

I wonder who's next, then.


So just upfront, I don't know what the 'average' cost of university is in North America. Having said that, people this way tend to argue about the cost of tertiary education a lot more than in Australia, for example, so I presume (quite possibly incorrectly) that it's cheaper in Australia.

With that in mind, I wanted to just point out that in Australia, all student loans are done through the government and a quick search shows that the average cost of a degree ranges between about $5000 and $10000 a year. I don't know if that supports your statement about the government being "involved in the student loan business" but I figured it may be a helpful piece of data...


For some perspective, my degree at a public state university in the US cost about $20,000 per year. That was almost 10 years ago. There are plenty of universities in the $40-50k per year range.


That's amazing. Another quick search shows up to about $17,000 a year in Canada and as far as I can tell the loans are part government, part private (though rates etc. are set by the government).

From all of that, then, while I can't argue that "The cost of higher-education skyrocketed when the government got involved in the student loan business" (from my original parent's comment) is incorrect, I don't think it's fair to infer that one is necessarily the fault of the other.

Implicitly, of the course, if the underlying problem is more related to the "tuition skyrocketed with the suddenly available capital" comment, then it just comes down to 'greedy higher education' which is its own problem I guess.


Great point. I wonder how long it will be before we can publicly acknowledge the foolishness of these government subsidies. Efforts to improve college affordability created skyrocketing costs. Same story with housing affordability - an epic and damaging bubble. We can acknowledge wasteful subsidies for farmers, when we see food rotting in fields instead of being exported or consumed. And yet, the presence of millions of highly indebted, unemployed or underemployed college graduates and there's nothing to see here, please move along.


Yup. Make it impossible for people to get this kind of money, and the schools will change to meet the new realistic tuition amount.

People argue that this would mean only rich people would be able to go to college, but I think colleges would rather keep the number of students up high, and not become an extremely privileged institution.


> Sort of. The cost of higher-education skyrocketed when the government got involved in the student loan business. It became easy to get loans for higher-education and then tuition skyrocketed with the suddenly available capital.

This is very commonly asserted, but no one offers data to back it. Some try to argue it on general supply and demand principles (loans increase demand, supply does not increase as fast, so price goes up), but this fails because that theory predicts prices should rise to the point where supply and demand are equal, yet in fact prices are far below that.


The other half of the story is that even back in the 80's a summer job typically couldn't cover the cost of a school year. I started school in the fall of '82. Tuition was dirt cheap compared to today, but the cost of housing, food, etc. was still high enough that very few students I knew were able to pay for college via summer jobs alone.


Here in Brazil at least that is true. The Brazilian boomers thought us that we needed college, period. Then lack of colleges happened, thus government started giving student loans, and private companies building colleges like crazy, and the government build at a more reasonable pace

Now most people.of my age have a.degree that only proves you can wipe your ass with it, because most universities here have terrible quality, considering the amount of them grew much faster than we had teachers, and people.are terribly indebted. I pay for example permonth 2 times the minimum monthly wage. And most people stay stuck earning minimum wage until they retire. And I am not a exception, the only people I met that are below 28 and don't have absurd debts are dropouts or child of someone with net worth bigger than. 5 million.

EDIT: In the fields I got my degrees, every year we have more students completing their courses than the total number of employees on those fields in the country...

Or the one that is so absurd to the point of hilarity: Brazil has more law schools than the rest of the world summed, last time I checked in the justice department site, 5% of our population has a bachelor degree in law... (remember Brazil has a 200 million + population)


I get almost 10 minimum wages with 24 and I think that I'm underpaid(and I am...). I was making WAY MORE money working as a freelancer than working for a company here but it seems that people(and the government) only respect who is employed by a company, otherwise I will never be able to buy a car or a house with a loan. Our government sucks.

College on Brazil is alright, the problem is with research culture -- horribly bad. Teachers on universities are rated by how much shit they published instead of the quality of their work.

The academic field is very bad for anybody wanting to study something advanced but at least in computer science, being a undergrad is just fine. You learn the same shit that the MIT does, the problem is 1. the people of your class, 2. your teachers don't do anything interesting to inspire you.


I guess you went to some expensive university or a federal one...

I am talking here about the ones that majority of the population use, UNIP, Anhembi Morumbi, Anhanguera, that sort of stuff...

Also, at 10 mininum wages, you are on the top 4% of the population in income (yes, it is that bad here in Brazil).


Anyone who says it is easy to get loans for higher-education from the government must have never dealt with my school's Financial Aid office, or filled out a FAFSA.

It might be easy to get private loans for higher education, as they are for profit and you can't bankruptcy out of them, but I was lucky enough to not need them.


"when the government got involved in the student loan business."

Its more general than that. System wide. Same scenario during the same timeframe in cost of housing, cost of day care, cost of automobiles... Anything involving loaning money from a bank and possibly paying it back, or anything where the .gov hands out money to certain favored groups.

"the rise of the ridiculous requirement to have a college degree to get anything close to a decent job"

At least in the USA there are fewer jobs every year. So its not ridiculous so much as market forces. Also note that society wide (ignoring the very narrow IT code monkey situation solely in NY and SF, I mean country-wide) we produce more college grads than we have job openings.

This is kind of an important lesson for HN startups etc. Yes is it true there is a shortage of IT folks in NY/SF. But in the rest of the country, we're rapidly moving from merely needing any bachelors degree to be a receptionist or call center script reader, to perhaps needing a STEM degree for those kind of jobs. I know experienced and productive STEM people lucky to be working in call centers. The lesson is if you intend to scale your startup outside SF/NY you need to face jobforce realities outside SF/NY. For example say you create a startup to sell to education. Don't do your marketing plan aimed at Ed degree holders (maybe a .edu discount or some kind of viral marketing via sponsorship of alumni activities or something) because most of those grads are either working in the hospitality industry as waiters / bartenders unable to get a job, or got a teaching job and burned out in a decade and are already on their next career. So most Ed degree holders are going to be unable/uninterested WRT your startup. You could aim at people actually employed in the field, which will be a pretty small subset of those educated in the field.

Its tempting, if you're in silicon valley, to try to scale, based on what works in silicon valley where you live. The rest of the country that you're trying to scale into is basically a different, failing economic model. Sometimes this is important when scaling, sometimes it isn't.


At least in the USA there are fewer jobs every year.

False.

http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?s[1][id]=PAYEMS


Sure.

Would you take a job that didn't require a degree? How much would you expect to earn?

If the GP had said "A degree is required to (hopefully) maintain your parent's standard of living," which is obviously implied by the context, would you be able to restrain the pedantry?


It's a race to the bottom. Give almost everyone a college degree, and employers will require a college degree for extremely basic jobs.

Give nearly almost everyone a graduate degree, and employers will require a graduate degree for basic jobs.

The upper-class don't care about this; they can afford to keep their kids in post-secondary for 10 years both economically and socially. Even if you waved a magic wand and made college "free" for everyone, this constant credential race would hurt the lower class the most.


Sounds reasonable. But I see things slightly differently.

I see three (major) factors.

#1 Supply and demand. Manufacturing and agricultural jobs have declined, the population increases, there haven't been enough knowledge and service jobs to take up the slack. So employers can keep raising standards.

I recall how hard recruiting / hiring was during the dot com boom, when my region had near full employment. We were hiring anyone who could spell "HTML".

Now the situation has reversed.

#2 Anti-competitive impulses. Nearly every single person who successfully climbs the ladder immediately turns around and pulls the ladder up behind them. To limit the competition.

I saw this with the ridiculous continuing education requirements for teachers. I saw this when I served on the hiring board, where the members wrote prerequisites & requirements they themselves couldn't meet. I see this in politics where most every incumbent makes challenges ever more difficult. Etc, etc.

#3 Using high requirements as a filter (firewall) in a very high noise to signal environment. The part of hiring I hate most is chewing thru the deluge of resumes that any job posting now gets. I think the buzzword bingo filtering is unfair and doesn't work. Which is why so many people hire thru their social network, routing around the broken HR processes.


Given how low my parent's standard of living was at my age, virtually everyone already exceeds that including people without a job. Do some research - we were very poor in the recent past.

The goalposts might be moving faster than the economy, but things have only gotten better.


Predictably, you're confusing wealth with inequity.


You previously spoke of standard of living. Now you seem to be changing the topic to "inequity", whatever that means. I am definitely confused.


Then you can start your research with the definition of standard of living.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_of_living

Which of the factors listed have improved? Note the explicit acknowledgement of these measures done in context, meaning in relative terms. Measuring wealth in absolute terms is unhelpful.

Also, social mobility has been declining for decades. Your personal experience is not the norm.


Quality of housing, for example. We now live in much bigger and better houses than in my parent's era. Hours of work needed to purchase necessities - most of the necessities of my parent's era are easily available today at negligable cost. Health care has vastly improved, education is more available than ever before, life expectancy has gone up, incidence of disease has gone down, infrastructure is vastly better, economic and political stability is way up [1]. Environmental quality is as well.

If you want to measure these things relative to some set of moving goalposts, be my guest. As I said, "the goalposts might be moving faster than the economy". But then discuss moving goalposts rather than "your parent's standard of living", which implies the fixed standard of living that my parent's enjoyed.

[1] In my parent's era, we had a 2 million member strong terrorist group assaulting random civilians on a regular basis.


relative to some set of moving goalposts

Otherwise known as "the neighbors".

Any way.

Let's review.

You argumentatively, literally interpreted VLM's statement

"At least in the USA there are fewer jobs every year."

While ignoring his obviously correct broader point about rising requirements for job applicants.

I refuted your pedant by pointing out that while there are more jobs, you probably need a degree to get a well paying job.

Then you ignored my question

"Would you take a job that didn't require a degree? How much would you expect to earn?"

and proceeded to pendant about something else, purposefully misunderstanding (or reinterpreting) commonly accepted terminology.

So, please, forgive me, I can't figure out what you're arguing about. Please repeat which broadly accepted obvious point you originally disagreed with (this time).

Thanks.


Sort of. The cost of higher-education skyrocketed when the government got involved in the student loan business. It became easy to get loans for higher-education and then tuition skyrocketed with the suddenly available capital.

We have the same upper class problem we had in the same 1920s-30s but they've replaced poverty with subordinacy. They've become more wily and would rather people fall into servitude than fail completely.

When capitalism broke down in 1929-33, people actually died of starvation. Now they go into high-interest credit card debt.

The same is happening in higher education. The need for widespread higher education is too strong for people to just not go, but the upper class isn't going to just give it away (even if there is benefit to them of an educated society). Thus, non-dischargeable loans have replaced taxpayer-funded grants, and college is just at the point of affordability where the upper class feels comfortable with the number of people who can go to school.


Well, that’s the part we don’t want to talk about anymore.

That's not true at all: college costs are constantly discussed. The book Why Does College Cost So Much is the most comprehensive treatment of the issue I've seen, and it argues that the main driver of college costs is Baumol's Cost Disease.

It’s that taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists.

Universities like the University of Washington are also in a spending arms race: universities are increasing their per-student spending, even in the face of falling state spending: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/06/04/public_univer... .

A side note: Danny Westneat is something of a joke among people who read the Seattle Times, and it's a mistake to take almost anything he writes seriously. He's the sort of pious liberal that makes intellectually minded and honest liberals crazy because of his tendency to repeat various kinds of half-truths. This is a good example: he's right that if Washington picked up 90% of UW's tab, tuition would be cheaper.

But it's also true that if he'd read more, and read more about the people who actually study this issue, he'd have a more complete picture of the situation. You'll learn more reading this comment than reading his column.


Your speaking in half truths, taking inflation into account the increase intuition is mostly related to lack of funding for state schools. Consider a few states hand out fee rides to a significant faction of students who meet basic qualifications. The real issue is most states have been poorly run over the last 50 years and face a wide range of funding issues related to pensions and healthcare issues.

PS: In the University of California system, the per-student cost of providing education has actually gone down: total university-system expenditures divided by number of students produces a number about 20-25% lower today than it was in the '70s, in real-dollar terms.


Time for the rich colleges to find better use of their endowments then. Berkley has three billion in endowments according to a 2011 report, I do not have current numbers. Some famous East coast schools have numbers that dwarf it.

According to Wikipedia the University of California system as a whole has over ten billion dollars in various endowment categories. More telling is they have over thirteen thousand administrative employees and just over ninety thousand academic employees. That compares to only two hundred thirty six thousand students. Gee, I wonder where the problem is? Two students per employee is a lot of money to make up


That 10 billion endowment for all the university's in California (UC,CSU,CCC) would cover less than six months of the just the University of California's (UC) operating budget before being used up. So yes it's a big number but it's also not actually all that helpful. http://accountability.universityofcalifornia.edu/index/chapt...

state educational appropriations constituted only 12 percent of UC's operating budget in 2010-11 compared to 23 percent in 2001-02. In 2011-12, the state cut UC's budget an additional $750 million.


> Consider a few states hand out fee rides to a significant faction of students who meet basic qualifications.

I lived in one of the states in question, Florida, that a had program called Bright Futures (no longer exists) that provided automatic tuition assistance based on GPA. However, that program, even in the best case, would only cover tuition expense. All other expenses were up to the student to handle.

However, the vast majority of recipients of bright futures left college with debt. With the program done, the amount of debt accumulated has done up as tuition continues to get more expensive and assistance for tuition becomes harder to get.


taking inflation into account

Both Why Does College Cost So Much? and the link account for inflation; in fact, the last sentence in the first paragraph of the link says, "And, yes, those are inflation-adjusted dollars."


I was going for clarity. The linked article quotes several non inflation adjusted numbers just look at: http://www.washington.edu/students/timeschd/archive/TS-winte.... Which show 229 for instate tuition a quarter 229 * 3 = 687 which was quoted and thus clearly not an inflation adjusted number.


Minimum wage, which is what most college students earn, hasn't exactly kept pace with inflation either though.


Over the long term it's more or less kept up with inflation, however there have been a few big bumps such as Carter raising it from 2.30 to 3.35 in 1981. Which in inflation adjusted terms was 5.72 to 8.33 in 2012 dollars. Aka well below current to slightly above current minimum wage.


Here's a table of the past 20 years of UW tuition rates.

http://opb.washington.edu/sites/default/files/opb/Tuition/20...

Though not at double digits, I suspect rates went up throughout the 10 years prior (at 48, the article's author probably entered college around 1983). Rates certainly increased at the public universities I attended between 1983 and 1993.

If belief that there is benefit in funding public education makes me a liberal, then that I am. One side of my family moved into the middle class because a paratrooper attended Ohio State on the GI Bill.


I'm not sure that the author entered college at 1983 given that he's 48 and 1983 is 30 years ago.

(only posting this comment because yours is good. This topic is, at this point, buried, but I figured I'd post anyway).


18 would be fairly typical in the US, and more typical 30 years ago when the college track from High School to college was more prevalent than today.

Anecdote is not data, but I am 48 and entered college in 1983, aged 18 as did many of my academic cohort.


The reason a summer at KFC could pay for a year of UW med school in 1981 isn’t that we were so hardworking and industrious. It’s that taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists.

Source?


The article in question? ~5 paragraphs from the bottom.

Or are you asking a commenter who disagrees with the article to provide sources for an assertion made in the article?


I also paid for my college largely with high school jobs (I was fortunate enough to have had a home, clothes, food, etc. while I was earning that money). So kids, it is all true.

I work at a college and I am also just finishing putting my two children through college, so I am very interested in the topic. I find the report at http://www.acenet.edu/news-room/Documents/Anatomy-of-College... informative. In particular, on page 2 you can see that the steady increases in the cost of college fits with the fact that college is a service industry (or at least it has been up to now).

On page 10 you see in a graph the point that the Seattle Times's article made with an anecdote, that state and local governments have reduced support and families have had to make good the difference. In my mind, just as we as a society pool our resources to build bridges, we also need to produce people who will lead tomorrow (but then, as I say, I work at a college).


I've been working since I was 15 (I'm 20). In total, I've made around $15k. My first year of school cost roughly twice that figure.

If I wasn't majoring in CS (or my Grandfather hadn't died), I would not be going to the school I am. This isn't how the system should work.


Oh, I absolutely agree (as does the original article) that a hard-working bright student from a middle class household who wants to go to a state school cannot do so from working hard, as you and I did, from age 15 through college, at the kinds of jobs that such students would hold (I worked in a resturant; that's the kind of job I meant). I agree with the article, and I assume with you, that it is wrong that such a thing is not possible today.


We also didn't have price explosion.

A generation was told "go to college, don't worry about how much it costs, just go to college." And the colleges priced accordingly.

Make college debt dischargeable in bankruptcy and you will see real price pressure. No school will expect any student to go more than $10,000 in debt because they'll discharge and walk away.


Tuition has skyrocketed, but have universities changed that much? They act like they never have enough money, but yet... they have more than ever. What are the offering now for their 10x increase in tuition in 30 years?


Kids in a lot of colleges today are living a life of luxury compared to what I had in the 80s. Any dorm built or renevated in the last 10-15 or so years will have semi-private bathrooms. The dining options today are way better than what we had. I trudged down to the dorm cafeteria and ate whatever slop they were serving, high school cafeteria style. My son (at a small public university) has what amounts to a mall food court at school, and he can choose from burgers, pizza, wraps, vegetarian, Italian, Mexican, etc. every day. The libraries are more functional, the sports facilities are all updated, etc. All that costs money.


As someone who did college only several years ago, I have to chime in on this.

> Any dorm built or renevated in the last 10-15 or so years will have semi-private bathrooms.

This is true for new construction, but generally speaking older dorm buildings are kept in use and have the exact same experience as ever. Generally the new construction or alternatively designed dorms are more expensive to rent.

> The dining options today are way better than what we had. I trudged down to the dorm cafeteria and ate whatever slop they were serving, high school cafeteria style. My son (at a small public university) has what amounts to a mall food court at school, and he can choose from burgers, pizza, wraps, vegetarian, Italian, Mexican, etc. every day.

Food court style offerings are common, but like a food court you have to pay for anything offered. Typically corporate food chains try to get their place in the court and will wine and dine school administration for the chance to have a captive audience. The cafeteria style food options are still available and are cheaper (yes this food is really awful slop). Worse is that some universities require purchasing some amount of food ahead of time, whether it be a prepaid card usable anywhere or some kind of meal plan for the cafeteria style dining, milking money out of folks who prefer to live off campus and/or make their own food (esp. if they have special dietary requirements).

> The libraries are more functional, the sports facilities are all updated, etc.

This is generally true. Equipment is usually fairly modern and there is staff available most of the time.


Yea. College used to be a rite of passage. Now campus looks like a resort, to better attract tuition, err, I mean students.


>The dining options today are way better than what we had.

The dining options are also much more expensive.


One out of many cafeterias on my college campus was reported to have cleared 100k in profit for the year. Food is definitely not the problem, and I wouldn't be surprised if college dorms were profitable as well (more expensive than living off campus).


How many meals do you figure they served each day?

$500 a day might not be all that much (or it could be quite a bit).


But that doesn't seem to be tuition stuff. Room & Board is a separate set of fees, and most sports programs more than pay for themselves.


Definitely true about dining but private bathrooms? I only went to college 12 years ago, has it really changed that much since then?


Dining and living in the dorms is an extra cost on top of tuition. At least at the public universities I'm familiar with.


True. However, they are factored in to the "cost" of college. The financial aid calculations include lodging, food, transportation, books, etc. It was surprising to see that the govt. thinks I'm contributing $23K of the $26K my son needs for school this year. He lives at home, so his room and to some extent his board are not variable costs for me so I don't think of them as college expenses.


I've noticed the luxuriousness of modern higher ed, and I imagine the culture shock after graduation for virtually all grads must be interesting.

My favorite waitress used to eat at a facility like that, after graduation now she's stuck working at a similar facility. A bit too personal to ask, but I imagine its kinda a shock to the system for about 99% of the students.


I imagine the culture shock after graduation for virtually all grads must be interesting.

Unless they think that they cannot possibly go through a reduction in their standard of living and borrow to keep up with what is, in their mind, "normal."

College used to be rare and ascetic. Now it's required and expensive. I don't think either of those are a good trend.


Have you seen all the shiny new academic buildings?


Administrative and IT costs are much higher.


K12 teachers get less pay than garbagemen unless they have enormous experience.

True, most English Lit grads work as waitresses/bartenders, but the few who become tenured college profs are the new landed gentry, paid well above what their peers would get in industry. Which flows uphill, such that only in academia could the boss of a liberal arts major be making more than $9/hr. Of course the system of teaching with adjuncts who are paid less than minimum wage and indentured servant TAs is cutting into that.

There was a time, when teaching didn't pay as well as private industry, but at least you got good benefits and summers off. Since then we got rid of private industry and boosted the pay and benefits in teaching beyond whatever private industry is left, if any.


Wait, what? The wage structure is private industry < k12 teachers < garbagemen?


From the wikipedia article for my home town "Males had a median income of $40,743 versus $29,279 for females." (assuming most people here work in private industry)

From the Dept Pub Instruction 2012 report for the salaries for teachers (not admin, not staff) for the school district I live in which is almost perfectly coincident with the boundaries of the city, lowest pay was 24131, highest was 93313, and average was 61223 with an average years of employment in the district of 12.34 years and total years of experience of 13.66 years.

I can't get a straight answer on garbage man pay. I can find quotes between $20K and $60K depending on which political axe they're grinding. I believe the low end is part time / noob / disability and there's a cluster around upper 50s for the full timers who have a couple years in (so we can compare apples to apples, like the teachers with 12 years experience above). Some guys get stuck on overtime, especially around the holidays. So if your axe to grind is they're underpaid for a gross heavy labor job, they're only making in the $20s, but if your axe to grind is they're overpaid for gross heavy manual labor then they make about $60K.

Its hard to compare medians and means and there's lots of fuzzy math.


Wage stagnation is probably a bigger factor.

    Minimum wage, 1951: $0.75/hr
    Minimum wage, 1981: $3.25/hr
    Minimum wage, 2011: $7.25/hr


While I don't agree with the status quo, if your labor isn't worth $15 an hour to someone (mainly because someone else is perfectly willing to do the work for less) then they don't have a moral obligation to pay you more, and minimum wage laws only artificially constrict the limits of what the value of unskilled labor is.

I'd rather see a basic income guarantee (mainly for creative people like artists or FOSS developers) and the removal of minimum wage, so businesses can correct the true value of labor in various fields.

It would help eliminate the rampant service industry that destroys souls because most people don't have the fortitude to deal with random strangers idiocy.


How about an obligation to not shift your employee cost of living onto the government?


This is the important aspect that most people don't think about when discussing this issue. A quick google search reveals 80% of Walmart employees are on government assistance.


It's not wage stagnation per se, it's the implosion of the real economy. Minimum wage can't keep up because our economy is a shadow of its former self. From 1950 to 1980, America had on average half the total global manufacturing base, courtesy of WW2 having blown up everybody else.

If we matched minimum wage from 1951, or 1961, we'd need to be paying $40,000 to $50,000 per year. Anybody that has run a liquor store, or a fast food business, understands that's mathematically impossible.


This one's easy. It's obviously the availability of cheap money (loans) that has caused the price of college to go up. Just like homes and cars (which are equally ridiculously priced), we can only afford them because they are comparatively leveraged. If people had to pay out of pocket for these things, you can bet they wouldn't cost nearly as much. If you can tack an additional X thousand dollars onto the price and only affect the payment for the item marginally, you can bloat pretty damn quickly.

That said, the quality of these things might also go down, but I have a hard time believing our elders got a comparatively worse education/home/car, adjusting for technological advances.

This may be a ridiculously sweeping statement, but I truly believe consumer credit is one of the worst inventions of the modern era, and has drastically reduced quality of life across the board.


Here is something to look at

2013 Tuition: $12,500 Subsidized: 30% 2013 Total: $17,857

1981 Tuition: $687 Subsidized: 90% 1981 Total: $6870 2013 Dollars: $17,690 (at 3% inflation)

So the argument is not the cost of education as that hasn't changed in 30 years. Its more who is footing the bill which is implied in the article. Should taxpayers pay for the education?


That $12,500 tuition is wholly subsidized. The loan guarantees provided by the government are back-stopped by the tax payers (and ultimately the Fed, aka people holding dollars).

The sole reason students can get loans totaling $40k or $50k is the government is subsidizing the entire process with guaranteed loans.

Most likely as this soon to be multi-trillion dollar debt debacle explodes, the government is going to end up paying for a lot of that debt via bailouts. They're certainly not going to let that tower of debt truly fall over, so a bailout is the only likely outcome.


Isn't it also true that private institutions have seen an equally fast or faster growth in tuition expenses? That would invalidate the article. For reference btw, $3 to $6 in 1981 dollars is $7.50 to $15 in today's dollars according to Westegg.


Yes. Higher education is the only industry to give medicine a run for its money in cost inflation.

Some blame Baumol's cost disease[1], and that's probably an element of it, but so too are the multiplication of deanlets and deanlings[2], the cancerous growth of the physical facilities a of every school, spending per student being used as a proxy for quality by the USN&WR, the rise of bidding wars for celebraty faculty, ect.

Much or all these effects are enabled by incentives for those that run universities in which holding costs down play little to no role. That's partially a function of the student loan system and partially a function of lax oversight of "charitable" organizations in general.

[1]http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baumol's_cost_disease [2]http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober_2...


Once you get a group of customers who have been told and internalized "price doesn't matter," then you will only see one response from the producers.

Producers who tried to avoid the game got left behind. When the students don't care about the cost, then it becomes a losing proposition to skip out on (say) the $10 million expense that only provides $1 million of value to your students.


The fault is shared between both parties: employers demand degrees because it's so much easier to recruit that way, and youngsters don't fight and just go to college.

In my opinion we need way (WAY) more smart dropouts, people who realize they don't belong in school but stay by fear are just as much at fault.

There's no fear or shame to have, I've been through it and it just disabled poor professionnals from hiring me, which is more of a blessing than anything else.

And of course, it's all debt-free from there on (except I bought a place in Paris before my friends even moved out of their parents').


Yeah but for that to work we need a big mass of people without degrees. Right now the status quo is on the other end of the spectrum so you get a trickle of fighters.

We need someone to pave the way :). Maybe rising tuition is the way to go. At some point uni education becomes so prohibitive that even the mass may avoid it.

(btw I was not a fighter)


I went to university in Canada in the early 90s. My tuition per year peaked at $2500/yr. I could make about $6000 over the summer, which would pay for my tuition and a big chunk of my dorm fees ($6000/yr). Nowadays, I don't know how anyone can afford to go to university, or even if it's worth it anymore. I believe there's a lot of value in higher education, but not if it means having $100k+ in debt.


Canada has been spared the American insanity if my understanding is correct. I pay ~7k/year for University of Calgary. Even University of Waterloo our most prestigious computer science university is only 10k. Provided you are not an international student tuition should be reason. I expect my Microsoft internship to pay for two years of uni including living expenses. Freelancing paid for another year.

Compared to the farm work, tree planting, and landlording which my father did to pay for University I'm on vacation.


Someone who went to college in 1981 does seem ancient to me, after all my mom went to college just a few years before that and she smoked cigarettes in class ($0.25 a pack!), but this guy is only 48! Now I'm 35 and rapidly catching up! I think the theory of logarithmic experience of aging where you have experienced half your life by age 12 is totally true.


I paid for my undergraduate education (97-03) by dropping out to work as a full time consultant. Because I did this twice, it took several extra years to graduate. For grad school, I worked a full time night job and missed out on the quintessential grad student experience of being a TA, getting to know the faculty, making friends, and being a part of the grad student and research community. I did manage to finish grad school with no debt, but I'll never know whether it was worth missing out on the social academic experience. It may technically be possible to pay for higher education through hard work, but the opportunity cost is hard to appreciate for those who do.


Hate to break it to you but universities are in the business of research. Teaching is nearly worthless use of researcher's time - taken away from progressing science and getting those private and government grants. Or so the teachers told me in Canada. Some teachers believe in teaching - others treat students with contempt and shrug them off to assistants. And the bigger university, the bigger the stakes are in research at least - lower quality education you get.

Granted elevated acceptance requirements will get you in the boat with some smart people - for four years of tedium and exasperation but then you'll have the network to build from.

my 2c


>Teaching is nearly worthless use of researcher's time

No, it isn't or else you'll soon run out of researchers.


Does anyone know why the cost of the universities have skyrocketed? Do they offer a better staff/student relation, better equipment, better buildings, do they pay their staff better...? I honestly don't know but since a lot of the universities are non profits the money is not going to their shareholder's and if I understand the article correctly the (inflation adjusted) amount of money the government provides also has not decreased.


Bigger, newer buildings. Lots more administrators paid much higher salaries. Tuitions subsidizing very expensive football teams. Gourmet food and single rooms for students (so they can attract the best and brightest!) rather than hash-slinging cafeterias and dormitories. Fancy gyms for the same reason.

Faculty salaries, however, are much lower since a large percentage now are part time temps with PhDs.


//Tuitions subsidizing very expensive football teams.//

I'm happy to say that at my alma mater (Purdue) the athletic programs are run as a separate business. They don't get one penny from the University general fund. I think they are one of 5 schools like that. Personally, I think every public school should be required to fund athletics separately.


Normally when athletics are profitable, the athletic dep't grows. When they are not, the college makes up the difference. I've never heard of an athletic department that contributed anything back to the college, at least not willingly.


Well, Purdue does take a big chunk of the Big 10 Network proceeds for the University, when that money is almost entirely the result of the athletic program. However, I wouldn't say the athletic programs are willingly sharing it.


The accounting for college athletics is weird. Do you only count tickets/TV/bowl $$ in? Or do you try and include alumni donations directly or indirectly linked/influenced by sports? How do you know whether or not the alumnus/a would have donated if not for the team? Do you count sports individually or as a whole? - under title IX you can't just cut the women's programs outright. You can manipulate these variable to claim almost anything you want about profitability in either direction.


I should have said that median faculty salaries are much lower. A few stars get big salaries and more than half get starvation wages.


We have been moving to the pro sports salary model, not just in pro sports, but obviously already happened in .edu and is more or less along that path everywhere else.

I'm sure there's startup opportunities and risks in this cultural and economic system change.


At my school, a lot of the instructors (at least the non-research instructors) are people who hold 9-5 jobs at a private company in their field of instruction as an adjunct professor. They're willing to work for a lot less pay, since it's a second job.


Yes, the schools are trying to make college teaching into a hobby rather than a profession.


Examples of bloated salaries for non-faculty: The president of Penn State who was fired made $3mill his last year and could only be 'fired' to the extent that he now makes $600k as a professor who does no teaching at all.

And college coaches usually make a lot more than college presidents.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/public-college-pres...


>Does anyone know why the cost of the universities have skyrocketed?

Administrators always claim their biggest expense is faculty, I remain skeptical.

>Do they offer a better staff/student relation,

No, worse.

>better equipment,

No, and equipment is almost always paid for with grant money.

>better buildings,

My own Ivory Tower is a cold-war era brick dungeon with not a single damn window. The A/C system, which used to be great, was designed for 2.5cent/kW/h electricity, and still uses quite a lot of power even though they have disabled the dehumidifier functionality. Buildings are usually bought with local bonds, grants, or endowments.

do they pay their staff better...?

Staff, maybe, faculty? no.

>if I understand the article correctly the (inflation adjusted) amount of money the government provides also has not decreased.

Negatory, at least in Texas, the state has been slashing funds each year for at least the last 4 years. (Texas A&M, UT, were exempt, I think)

The explosion in costs isn't merely on the tuition side. Being on a college campus is to be a captive consumer. Lots of McDonald's, Burger King, Coke/Pepsi, the bookstore is a BN franchise and they get practically exclusive access to students' money. Fin-Aid makes it easy to spend money at the campus bookstore and much harder to use Fin-Aid money outside that ecosystem.


The academic staff are certainly not paid better (relatively). Indeed, there has a been a profound shift from teaching being done by professors to being done mostly by those less qualified and paid the least: grad students and postdocs. The salaries of proper academic staff, and the ratio of staff to students also have not increased. What has increased, though, is the number and salaries of administrative staff.


What is shocking is that in disciplines like CS, profs are expected to pull in grants that cover their salaries. So effectively, the tuition students pay isn't even paying for the salaries of the professorial staff. Also, the University charges an overhead percentage on grants received. Of course, different universities do it their own way. But the money side of academia is dark and dark indeed.


Yup, overhead ranges from 40-70%


I'm guessing it is more buildings, more administrators, and less money from the state. My alma mater (Virginia Tech) had buildings going up in growth spurts for a while; late 19th century, late 1930s, late 60s. Since the late 90s it's averaged one new building a year. And now, some of those 19th century buildings are being torn down or gut reno'd for more buildings. And it's not like they have 20-50 million on hand to break ground. Everyone one of those new buildings has a 30-50 year mortgage. Some might get a donor to put their name on it, later. But this only offsets some of the costs.

I believe outside the Postdoc instructors, they pay the market rate for staff. You can't get good sys admins on $10/hr but you can make a PhD candidate practically beg for every dollar.


Does anyone know why the cost of the universities have skyrocketed?

Because for a generation the customers didn't care about the cost. And since they saw cost as positively correlated with quality, any college that attempted cost control was shooting itself in the foot.

(I'm not saying the generation that didn't care about price was stupid; they were responding mostly rationally to other perverse incentives.)


This is a little misleading. When adjusted for inflation, the average amount that students pay has increased only moderately. And on average students at public universities only pay about 18% of the money that's spent per student. There's no question it's a little bit harder now than it used to be, but it's not like its twice as expensive, let alone 10x as some people would claim.


It's not "a little bit harder" because while college may have risen in line with inflation, teenage earning power (minimum wage) did not.

In 1981 minimum wage was $3.31 and tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison was $832. In 2012 minimum wage for teenage summer jobs ("Opportunity Wage") was $5.25 and tuition at UW Madison was $8,592. Some retail paid more like $8 but that's still a 2-3x increase, whereas tuition increased more than 10x.


You're looking at tuition increases. Food, Housing, Books, etc. have also increased in varying amounts.


Food and housing are both a scam, depending on the school--where I went, it was significantly more cost effective to get these things from the free market than to live and eat on campus. Textbooks are also a scam. Often you could buy international editions but god help you if you were assigned problem sets.


Fair enough. But the average net tuition at public universities is only $4,900 per year. Assuming you make $10 per hour at a summer job, that works out to exactly 40 hours per week over the summer. Obviously there are still other expenses and considerations, but tuition itself isn't especially unreasonable. The bigger issues are the fact that education you'll receive is likely complete garbage, your degree won't be worth anything, and wages of the middle class have been decreasing for decades.


> Assuming you make $10 per hour at a summer job

Do you mean $10 per hour over the cost of living/driving/eating/etc ?

>The bigger issues are the fact that education you'll receive is likely complete garbage

The lectures are the same, the bar has been lowered too much.


no one should have to do what I did.

I grew up in the mountains. there were no rich people around. it would be very rare to find a family that my family knew that had a college degree. also my family didn't really have any money and I needed to move out as soon as I finished high school.

I found tech jobs on the internet (yay IRC). I moved to different cities and worked entry level tech jobs. I went to community college at nights and then a state school during the day when I had a job with flexible enough hours. I worked full time and went to school part time and after seven years I should be done this fall, with no student debt (or really any other kind of debt).

but doing this really sucked. no one should have to do it. I've met more people than you would think who were like me. when I started, people referred to me as a "nontraditional" student but I think the "traditional" student is becoming the abnormality...


The reason for this explosion in cost, is the Feds began fully subsidizing the cost of a college education. Colleges then had the green light to perpetually raise prices - even in the depths of the great recession - they knew Uncle Sam would cover the bill. Education costs have had no connection to reality because you could get a government backed loan for it. When you see an entire industry, with plenty of competition amongst schools, disconnecting from reality, you can almost always bet the government is involved in the cost inflation.

Colleges then took that massive influx of government sponsored cash and put it to work funding their bureaucracies, building an endless parade of buildings they didn't actually need, significantly boosting professor pay, and accumulating substantial endowments.

Meanwhile the actual education - their product - did not get more valuable. At a time of terrible economic performance, with 14% real unemployment, falling incomes, and lack of jobs post graduation, clearly the cost of an education should have fallen by quite a lot. It didn't because of a guaranteed loan back stop.

There is talk now that students should pay the same low interest rates on their debt that banks pay when they borrow money. If that is put into effect, all it will do is accelerate the debt accumulation. It'll enable students to borrow more, and colleges will accordingly charge more. This government fueled scheme can only end in tears (bailouts).


I loathe the trite "citation needed" when challenging disagreeable opinions. Especially when statements are so easily fact checked.

However, your thesis of more federal funding leading to raising prices doesn't square with my experience, what I understand of the current situation, and many of the sourced comments below. (I currently work in higher ed; funding, tuition, loans, worth of degrees are discussed ad nauseum. Though I sling code, many friends and coworkers deal with the money, budgets, and legislature.)

By "federal funding", do you mean research grants? I dimly recall that during my father's generation, Sputnik motivated huge influx of cash into both K-12 and higher ed. Also, my grandfather's generation benefitted from the GI Bill. Those initiatives lowered student costs.

It's accepted wisdom that our tuition has risen in direct proportion to the withdrawal of state funding. We're currently funded at 9%. It's completely, sadly accepted that we'll eventually be fully tuition funded.

I can't speak to the student loan gouging. Prior generations of students had very low interest rates with lenient payback enforcement. So your point seems counterfactual, leaning on some libertarian "free market" worldview.


The rise of private loan originators for education loans is largely to due with 1) reduced availability of assistance programs (esp. state run ones) and 2) federal guarantee to private loan originators of payment if a borrower is unable to repay.

OP is mistaken about publicly originated loans and assistance programs, those have been under constant political attack for some time and haven't changed much outside of payout amounts, interest rates, and number of loans made.


I'm curious: does state funding apply to out-of-state students? When I went to college in the 90s, out-of-state tuition was about 3x as much as in-state, a ratio that seems to have held to today--at least for my school. I would have expected the ratio to decrease as in-state students presumably received less state funding, but both have risen equally about 300%.

(I worked at the cashier's office, so historical tuition prices are still in my memory, but I have no other schools to base this on.)


Good question.

We recently talked about that. I was surprised to learn that in-state tuition discounts were subsidized by the state. I had always assumed out-of-state students were charged a premium.

I'm told that, in my state, community college students will (likely) continue to get subsidized, whereas university students won't.


Thank you for challenging this idiotic conservative bullshit! College was largely subsidized for decades before the 80s, and only when the legs got kicked out from under the tax base did the tuition costs go up.

Damn you, Ronald Reagan, and your ilk. Policies as demented as he was...


While I agree with you that the excess spending of higher education institutions has been a primary driver of cost growth, I would contend that decreasing state spending has had a greater impact on these rising prices than federally backed student loans. The market demand for a college educated workforce has exacerbated this price pressure to cause the 5-10% year/year increases.

For example, the University of Washington has sustained a state funding decrease of nearly 50% since 2009. In 1990 the funding per student was $17,000 with 82% paid by the state and the remainder by the student, in 2013 the state pays 29% and the student 71%.

The demand for a college educated workforce has also increased since 1990, with the majority of middle class occupations requiring a four year degree. This demand is inelastic, and while it is true that federal student loans make up nearly 90% loans, if supplanted by private loan bodies at higher interest rates it is unlikely that the market demand would decrease.


Citation please !


Guaranteed loans means students can borrow almost as much as they care to (how else does one borrow $60,000 without the prospect for a job, in a disastrous economy), and accordingly universities can perpetually raise prices as they know the Feds will just keep guaranteeing the loans via Mr Printing Press. It's quite a simple equation in fact.

If you wanted to solve the education cost spiral, the Feds need merely begin reducing the guaranteed funds, stop guaranteeing loans, or strictly lock down the guaranteed loan sums. Colleges would be forced to adjust to that new reality, in which they don't get perpetually increasing tuitions.

And if you want to check the concept, look up how much of a college education is subsidized by government loans today, versus 30 or 40 years ago - personally I think the general answer is obvious.


Don't condescend. The logic you've spelled out above is far from an obvious conclusion - and even if it were, we make decisions on good data, not just how much a reasoning makes you nod.

> "And if you want to check the concept, look up how much of a college education is subsidized by government loans today, versus 30 or 40 years ago"

Graph the price of gold vs. number of sea pirates in the world and you'll also get a correlation. The explosion of loans is highly correlated with rising tuition - the citation part needed is the causal link.


I wasn't trying to be condescending, so I adjusted my response. I think the link is obvious, you don't.

I think that anytime the Feds provide blanket guarantees for loans that can easily be taken advantage of by tens of millions of people, you tend to get substantial price inflation. Particularly when there are no checks on the loans that connect to the real economy.


The Stafford loan program is capped at just over $30,000. Direct PLUS loans have larger amounts, but can only be made to employed parents with good credit scores, not to students.

If you see a student with $60,000 in debt, thank the glorious free market. A good chunk of that was lent by a private financial institution.


An alternate way is to let people declare bankruptcy to get out of student debt.

I agree schools only let students get $100,000 into debt because someone will lend the money. However, if the markets for loaning money to students dried up, schools would finally face some price pressures.


Maybe I just don't understand the drawbacks, but why wouldn't a student then immediately declare bankruptcy after college? They likely have no assets, etc.


If the student only has (say) $3000 worth of debt, then the student would be stupid to have a bankruptcy on their credit report.

But if they had more than (say) $20,000 in debt, that is exactly what they would do.

Therefore, no school would let a student get significantly in debt.

Therefore, the school would have to lower prices.

The fear back in the day was that, without some way of holding students to loans, that the students wouldn't be able to get credit, and college would become a rich person's paradise.

I can understand where they were coming from when they were thinking that, but what we've actually gotten seems a much worse disaster than the one they were trying to avoid.


As a dependent student, I couldn't get anyone to loan me $60,000. :( As a freshman at 18, they'd only offer me something like $4500 in student loans, and I ended up not being able to go since I had no access to enough money to cover a $20,000/year in state public school. As an independent student, the most I can get is something like 13K in federal loans (and maybe a 5K pell grant). I can't get anyone to give me a private loan since I have no collateral, even though I have good credit.


Supply and demand.


Yes, I paid for MIT with five summers of work in the 1970s. When I graduated I had two months of living expenses left in the bank, the lowest ever in my life. the first three summers were blue collar, e.g. auto factories which paid triple minimum wage then.


Yup its true and the norm. I made about $6K over the summer months and my college tuition was $350 a semester. Shared an apartment for $200/month. The thought of taking out a loan never entered my mind.


Depending on your age, you may have been able to discharge any debt you acquired after graduation, which made it nuts for anyone to loan you money.

The reasons for making student loans non-dischargeable was based on a theory that only rich students would be able to go to college. However, I think experience has been a very harsh teacher that we got something much worse out of that bargain than we thought.


I'm going to University of Illinois the tuition for the engineering department = $19,980, and the living expenses = $7,000 ($400 rent, $100 food, $40 internet per month with roommate).

That's a total of $26,980 not including books, parking permits, clothes, any possible fun, computer, etc.

I made ~$25,000 working a year at jimmy johns as a delivery driver 20 hours a week (averaged $18 an hour), my 40 hour a week summer job ($10 an hour), and my website/youtube income (only $500 or so). This year i'm broke, but I went to a junior college for two years at $4000 a year, saved up, and I should graduate with a bachelors in C.S. with a minor in BioE for a total loan (for two years) I took out myself of ~$50,000.

1-2 years to pay back the loan, did it myself (I did have a cosigner for the loan, but it is still in my name AKA I call it doing it myself because i'm liable and am pretty responsible)

Quite frankly I would rather require each student to take out a loan themselves, than have my future self pay for the students to drink and screw around. My GPA is 3.5/4.0, i'll graduate when i'm 22 (currently 21), I have always worked 20-60 hours a week, I have 110 credit hours and a year to go (i've taken classes every semester including summer), and I have kept a girlfriend even. Its possible, you just have to be serious enough to do it.

OR you could take $100,000 in loans, work 10 years to pay it back ($500,000 by the end with interest).

Part of the reason it costs so much to go to school is so many people default. Do you think I will? Perhaps take some of the pressure off the public to pay, put it on the student and less people will default because only the most serious will go to expensive universities. Like I said, $4000 a semester at a junior college and I honestly think my education there was about the same quality as U of I, I had professors from Argonne national labs, one guy even designed the electronics for the f-18 hornet and taught as a kind of retirement.

Sorry for the rant, but the point is, I did it all myself and all of these comments about how hard or ridiculous it is it is are pathetic. Go to a junior college for a couple years, transfer, take out some loans, pay them back and get off the public's back (too many college students party to consider it a worthy public investment). Although it's harder, its definitely more gratifying to do it yourself.


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