The high cost of edumacating

Every year as students start their college careers the news reports on the high cost of higher education. Indeed college and universities in Michigan are more than twice they were in 2003 (Macomb daily).   What on earth is causing such a rise in education? It must be all of those rich faculty and their high paid tenured positions.  Actually, speaking as one of those faculty in a tenured position, I can tell you with much certainty that the rise in the cost of education is not because of faculty salaries.  At my institution we were on a salary freeze for several years between 2003-2010; then only received a 1% to 3% in the following years, which is far less than the cost of living increase in the same time period, same goes for administrators. (to clarify- the teaching budget stayed much the same even with the 1%-3% increase, as older faculty retire on the top end of the scale, new faculty are hired at the bottom of the scale, keeping the budget pretty much the same as it was in 2003)

So if it isn’t going to the faculty where is it going?  5 obvious places: administration, to make up for loss of tax and federal aid, insurance, infrastructure and technology.

When I started at my institution there was 1 administrator who oversaw the entire humanities area, it was a manageable job, but over the years more responsibilities were placed on that individual, so much so that they hired an additional person to take on the load. Administrator positions have more than doubled in the past 10 years at many institutions of higher learning.  In another area, as student issues continue to rise more administrators are needed to tend to students who need greater assistance.  Counselors and advisers, special needs coordinators and student service administrators are added every year. More administrators equal more salaries adding to a budget.

As millages come up for renewal and are voted down, as property values decrease on homes, funding from the State and Federal level continue to drop, without these resources colleges and universities are caught trying to balance their budget and need to find revenue somewhere, and that somewhere is tuition.

With the beloved “Obamacare” institutions of higher education are not immune to the regulations of providing health care to employees. This is a tricky balance for the administration as they try to keep costs down by hiring adjunct faculty, but once a faculty teaches over a certain number of hours; then they too need to be provided health insurance.  Even with high deductibles, and increasing costs passed on to the employee, the employer (the school) is stuck having to cover these cost, thus the budget increases causing the tuition to increase.

Infrastructure, including technology is one of the biggest culprits of the rise in tuition. The current student body requires technology, they require wifi, and mediated classrooms, online learning…you name it.  These technologies are extremely expensive.  Just updating a college wifi system to handle the load of YouTube and other technology is staggering.  During one college meeting the chief officer of the technology (another administrative position added in the last 10 years) for my college explained that a vast portion of the bandwidth is used by porn sites and gaming which students are using on their personal devices connected to the system.  And as soon as porn and gaming are introduced into your technology, not only does it strain your bandwidth, it permits hackers, and other nefarious trolls to harm the system.  Many institutions are now using 3 different internet channels, one for faculty; one for students doing research and one open source for the general public.  Speaking of hackers, there is a tremendous amount of information kept on college servers that hackers are always trying to get a hold of, so money is required to secure the college’s technology and student information.  A part of the infrastructure is buildings and grounds, building new buildings that meet the demand of the student body and to repair the old.

So yes the price of education is increasing, but not because the faculty is getting rich, unfortunately it is on the backs of students who have to get massive student loans to cover the cost of their education (a source of another discussion).

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