So here’s an interesting question

College in the US is more expensive than it used to be. This is true in real terms, not just pre-inflation ones.

There is much muttering about how it’s the vast administrative class, the radical upgrade of rooms and facilities, the services for snowflakes etc causing it.

There’s also the obvious point about Baumol’s Cost Disease.

So, has anyone actually done the sums the other way around?

What would be the cost of college if class and lecture sizes were what they were back in the mid 60s. Food provision, dorms, like the mid 60s. Administrative staffs like back then and so on?

Has this been done because if it has it would be interesting to see, wouldn’t it?

24 thoughts on “So here’s an interesting question”

  1. Not just fewer administrators, but more modestly paid too – I’m guessing about the US, but the UK pay inflation for pen-pushers is hair-raising.

  2. I did some very rough sums a while ago and reckoned that you could do a whole degree for a total fee of £9,000 and make a profit. I think the break-even on my calculations would be around £8,000.

    That’s £9,000 in total, rather than the current UK fees of £27,000 (£9,000 a year for 3 years).

    But that was a stripped-down “easy-uni” version based on larger classes and Buckingham-style 2 years at 4 terms per year. Don’t know what the US system would involve.

  3. Isn’t the other change in American universities that students get a lot less time with the professors than they used to, because most of the teaching (especially any small-group teaching) has been shoved down to low-paid graduate assistants (generally PhD students)?

    So the price has gone up but the quality of the product has reduced (assuming professors are better quality, which as we know is not always the case).

    So not necessarily Baumol’s Cost Disease, as they’ve probably reduced the cost of the actual direct service delivery.

  4. Bloke in North Dorset

    The cost of universities has gone up in line with the size of the maximum loans available.

  5. University costs have gone up because the world and his wife take it on faith that a university educated is priceless.
    Therefore near nobody walks away from the deal on offer if they can possibly raise the money.

  6. “Richard
    July 16, 2017 at 1:34 pm
    has been shoved down to low-paid graduate assistants (generally PhD students)?”

    Not graduate students, adjunct professors – PhD’s who weren’t good enough to get one of the limited TT positions and too stubborn to go into the private sector. So they ‘struggle’ teaching at 3k or more a course (and teach multiple courses a semester) and complain bitterly that they can’t get tenure and are being exploited.

    So the quality of instruction isn’t necessarily any worse. At least the adjunct knows he has to produce for the students or he doesn’t eat.

  7. Not Baumol’s Cost Disease.

    Business 101: set price to balance margins and volume.

    It is about affordability. BiND on right track. Student loans enable students to afford higher prices.

    As do state school lotteries. Every in state student gets a scholarship to state supported schools. State supported schools raise their prices accordingly.

    It is somewhat Baumolian that private schools then raise their rates, too, as they can generally price themselves above state schools.

  8. Read somewhere that less than 40% of US profs are tenured- the rest are adjunct (and so paid piece rates).

    We don’t have tenure in the UK but I would say that 80% of lecturing staff are on permanent contracts. There is a trend for more (permanent) teaching fellows who are not expected to do research and are cheaper per lecture course by virtue of doing more of them. The trend is also to get non- (research)-performing lecturers to transfer to teaching-only contracts.

    General pay-rates for lecturers in the UK have risen by 1% p.a. since 2008 so I’m really not clear where the money is going, but I suspect it’s on expansion of staff numbers (particularly admin) and building.

  9. “We don’t have tenure in the UK”: we used to have. Either de facto or de jure: after you’d cleared some sequence of hurdles your uni would give you a contract until the retirement age. (At least the ones I worked in did.) Even when the axe fell on departments Unis were loathe to make any academic redundant if his performance was up to scratch. But not now, of course.

    Sacking a tenured lecturer was very rare: I witnessed only one example and it took for ever, including a court case. (Booze, m’Lud.)

    I suppose the security was seen as compensation for the rather dismal pay rates. If they destroyed the security, who in God’s name would do the job? The days of relying on people having some private income must have perished by the 50s, or at the latest by the 60s.

    Mark you, I am at a loss to see why anyone bothers with a UK academic job nowadays unless they are utterly obsessed with their subject, and indifferent to many other pleasures in life. Or intend to live in a very cheap part of the country where by local standards the pay isn’t too dismal.

  10. dearieme said:
    “Mark you, I am at a loss to see why anyone bothers with a UK academic job nowadays”

    I do it a day or two a week, which is quite fun and allows me to do more lucrative things on other days.

    But mostly it depends on the subject:
    – in some subjects they’ve invested a lot of time and effort into qualifications that are utterly useless anywhere outside a university;
    – in subjects where you can actually get a job outside, they’re overwhelmingly staffed by women who have been on a long maternity leave and are looking for a comfortable job with long holidays.

  11. I’m puzzled.
    Parents will spend vast amounts on private schools instead of nothing apart from their taxes on the local comp.
    Then they agree to pay roughly the same amount whether Rupert or Jocasta goes to Cambridge to study maths, or Luton for Grievance Studies.
    BTW, student debt is the same, and if you own your house…

    At some point, mum and dad are just going to say NO, and these pseudo unis will close.

  12. Sacking a tenured lecturer was very rare: I witnessed only one example and it took for ever, including a court case.

    One of my two tutors at Oxford was brilliant (both as a teacher and as a mathematician – he left after my second year for a professorship), the other was utterly useless (both as a teacher and as a mathematician). Of course, since we were getting all our tuition for ‘free’, there was little direct feedback on performance.

    Long story short – to get rid of him from his tenured position the college had to appoint him a “Special Fellow in Tibetan Studies”. Who said academics have no sense of humour?

  13. Tenured College Fellows – how decadent. My impression is that in Cambridge they are often five year appointments, renewable at the discretion of the college. Mind you there’s not the least chance that there’s much uniformity in the habit.

  14. Here’s one Cambridge college statute (a recent foundation):
    “A Fellow under Title A shall be elected in the first instance for a period not exceeding five years, and shall be eligible for re-election for periods not exceeding five years at a time, provided that during any five-year period the said Fellow continues to hold the University office with which the tenure of that Fellowship is associated, otherwise the Fellowship is ended.”

    A different college (older and more famous):
    “Every Fellow of Class A is elected in the first instance for a period not exceeding five years and is eligible for re-election for periods not exceeding five years.”

    Yet another (the Big Bertha of colleges):
    “Except as provided in subsection (c) below, a person holding a Fellowship under Title B shall hold it for such period, not exceeding five years, as may be determined by the Council at the time of his or her election to, or continuation in, the Fellowship, as the case may be, and shall vacate it at the end of such period unless he or she is then continued in it by the Council under the provisions of subsection (d) below or is entitled under the provisions of sections 7–9 below to hold it under Title E.

    It’s more uniform than I expected.

  15. jgh
    “Parents are paying for their offspring to go to university? So we can abolish student loans then?”

    Yes, actually. From the maternity ward, vaccinations, the bog standard comp… Even taxpayers with no children still pay.

    Of course, actual real live parents pay for food and lodging, bail fees to get them out of jail, etc.

    But the Student Loan system seems broken. If the course were worth the money a private system, a bank, would lend them the money. If mum and dad are rich enough to not need the laon, or to pay it back if child goes haywire, well OK.

    The previous generation ALWAYS pays for the next. You can call it a Ponzi scheme or insurance or whatever, but it’s a bit hard to get three year olds up chimneys these days.

  16. And anuvver fing.
    Diplomas and bits of parchment are becoming compulsory: How long before you need a degree to wipe the floor at A&E?

    Meanwhile, kids in bedrooms are hacking CIA websites and DNC servers.

  17. Bif,
    A friend of mine complained that you needed a susstificate to tend bar in Oz.

    I’m coming to the conclusion that long periods of peace and tranquillity are not the boon that they seem to be. Give a government a few decades free of existential threats and they go batshit.

  18. I’ve been turned down for office cleaning and burger flinging jobs because I don’t have any office cleaning or burger flinging qualifications.

    But then this is the same employment market that turns down an applicant for a job using Office 2016 because in their last job they used Office 2013.

  19. I think there might be two different things going on here. The cost to students has gone up in real terms, but students aren’t the only ones paying for college. Governments (taxpayers) also contribute funding so it would be important to look at whether total college expenditure has changed in real terms.

    The OECD publish some data on this, unfortunately not going back to the 60s. From their results it looks like total expenditure on tertiary institutions per full-time equivalent student in the US was about the same in 2013 as in 2005, in constant prices (see Table B1.5b at the link below). Over a similar time period the tuition fees for full-time bachelor students in the US increased 38 percent (see Table B5.2 at the link below).

    There are a lot of other things going on with this data (e.g. tertiary expenditure includes R&D as well as teaching), but one possible or partial explanation is that over this time period governments have reduced funding for US colleges and the colleges increased tuition fees to maintain revenue. This is somewhat consistent with the results in Table B3.2b that show the proportion of tertiary funding from governments in the US has declined between 2005 and 2013.

    PS: I don’t have anything to do with US colleges, I just know this data.

  20. jgh,

    If you (or someone else – not sure if this is your anecdotal experience) have been rejected for a job for using the wrong version of Office, it’s because there were too many qualified candidates to interview and they are culling on whatever ‘justifiable’ basis possible or, if you are lucky, they have looked at the qualified candidates and found they didn’t like you, but used a bullshit excuse as to why rather than justifying their decision.

    Either way, the sort of stupid bad practice that bureaucracies develop – and an example of the sort of reporting loop that costs money and which helps explain why universities (and so many other things) are so expensive.

  21. @ Wathchman & jgh
    “you haven’t got the qualifications” is the “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for HR departments. Two or three times I was so irritated by a job advert emailed to me that I decided to take the mickey by applying and each time I was told that there were better qualified applicants for the position – except that there are only two people in the UK who are better qualified than I and I know that they haven’t taken those jobs. It would have been quite rational for them to say “you’re too old” – but they are not allowed to do that so they just lie.
    Now, if I was a mixed-race middle-aged woman, I could vent my spleen by suing for discrimination but as a white middle-class male, no chance – and the jobs weren’t worth the bother (I imagine that Colin would be embarrassed if I asked him to testify that anyone had even sent him the job application and he had chosen not to apply).

  22. A friend of mine complained that you needed a susstificate to tend bar in Oz.”

    Yeah, you need a Responsible Service of Alcohol certificate. It’s one of the less onerous of these types of dopey qualifications – costs $45 and takes 4 hours (mandated minimum time for the course!). I’ve never done it but as far as I can tell the main purpose is so that no one can say “I didn’t know it was illegal to serve someone who was intoxicated”. Although it also gives staff a bit of State backup for refusing service to troublesome customers – “it’s not my call, it’s the law” – while happily serving quiet, well behaved drunks like me 🙂

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