Higher Education: Tuition, the Never Decreasing Curve
The United States has one of the best higher education systems in the world, but it will turn out to be worthless if it is unaffordable. Rises in college tuition have become a critical problem in today's economy. Tuition costs have been skyrocketing in the past few decades, and it has become unaffordable for many families and students throughout the United States. The problem emerged around the 1980's and since then it has grown without mercy to the low and mid-income families. Unfortunately, the value of a college degree in one's life is increasing, though not as much as tuition costs. According to College Board, college tuition has gone up about 286 percent from what it cost in the 1980's in public and private institutions across the United States. The inflation rate with 1980 as a base year is just 200 percent. Tuition and fees have had a gigantic increase of almost 90 percent between 1980 and 2010.
Rises in tuition costs are having a positive impact on the quality of education that colleges are providing; investments on research and a more qualified staff have improved higher education. However, rises in tuition are not fully justified, because many college's budgets are also being spent on superficial elements, such as unnecessary new facilities and funding sports teams just to move up a few places in the annual college rankings.
Universities and colleges in the United States are spending most of their budget on staff, which has significantly improved higher education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), an average of about 36 percent of a college's budget is being spent on their staff. This large percentage of universities' expenditure in staff is a reflection of the universities' efforts to improve the quality of education. Better staff equals better education. However, hiring a more qualified staff means higher salaries. Critics like Maureen Downey suggest that many professors in higher education are being overpaid, and that affects the quality of education. In her article "Six-figure Salaries at Public Colleges", she states that "between 2007 and 2010, the number of six figures staffers in University of Georgia jumped 30 percent and the number making at least $200,000 rose 46%." Hiring better professors does improve the way and what students learn in the classrooms, but at the same time, they should not be overpaid. This causes the budget of colleges to shrink, and eventually makes tuition rise for students. Another example of this growing practice in the United States' universities is provided by Pablo Eisenberg in "Campus Workers' Wages: a Disgrace of Academe." Eisenberg rejects the idea that the president of the University of Miami, Donna Shalala, enjoys a salary of $500,000 and a large university house. Presidents and staff should earn a decent salary, because they do deserve it, but ridiculous salaries like this should be cut off. Overpaying professors does not benefit education. It is time for universities to start thinking about the impacts that overpaid professors are having in American families. However, these high qualified overpaid professors have led to an improvement of students' grades. The Economist magazine states that "a remarkable 43% of all grades at four year universities are As, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960. Grade point averages rose from about 2.52 in the 1950s to 3.11 in 2006." These statistics support the fact that the quality of education has improved, because students are learning more in their classrooms, and it is reflected in their grades even as the difficulty of receiving a passing grade in college has increased. Colleges and universities are doing the right thing by investing in the improvement of quality of education, but it should be done wisely.
Similarly, research has become an important area of investments in universities, because of its importance to education. In today's modern society, the constant emergence of new technologies is a must, and universities are the perfect place to perform research. Students enter universities with fresh and new innovative ideas that are helping the development of new technological advancements. The NCES found that public and private 4-year universities are spending about 11.45 percent of their budgets in this area. Research has a strong impact on the quality of education that colleges and universities are providing. Students are now having the opportunity of being part of professional and scientific projects that will help them understand more their subject, and when they graduate they will be lord and master of their subjects. Universities that conduct research have become experienced in the subjects that they have been researching; a clear example of how experienced they have become is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This university is now known as one of the best universities in the world because of the constant development of new technologies. By the time that students from MIT graduate, they have already become experts in their subject. Students are exposed to so much scientific approach in their learning environment that it improves the quality of education received, and this make them more prepared than other competitors in the job market.
Furthermore, research does not only benefit students, but the university, the economy, and the world. A major and important benefit to the university is the investment and funds provided by the government. Usually, the government provides research universities with funds to keep researching certain technologies and sciences. These funds benefit the university, because it helps relieve their budgets. Another important benefit of research universities is in the economical aspect. Successful new technologies have the power to boost an economy; an example of it is Japan during late 1990's, when it became the most powerful electronic industry in the world. The world also benefits by the research done in universities. The best example of this occurred in 2010, when the H1N1 flu became an epidemic. Philip DiStefano expresses in his article "University research benefits us all" that at the University of Colorado, it was discovered how this virus could affect the masses. In this university the early detection test was developed, and it had a huge impact in preventing the spread of this deadly virus across the world (DiStefano). Research has an important impact not just on the universities, but on the whole world. Universities and colleges should continue to invest in research, because it improves the quality of education that students receive and it has important benefits on the world.
Rises in tuition costs are having a good impact on students and their communities; however, not all the rises in tuition are justified. Universities are also spending part of their budgets on things that do not have benefits for their students. The main trigger for all this money being wasted in new facilities, sports teams, and useless things are rankings. Today colleges' rankings are having a strong influence on the way that colleges are spending their budgets.
Many universities are spending millions of dollars on unnecessary facilities, sports teams, and luxury dorms that do not justify the need of rising tuition costs. A lower tuition would definitely benefit students and families across the United States more than needless facilities. Maureen Farrell explains in her article "The Building Blocks of Marketing," that colleges spent $14.5 billion in 2007 for the construction of new facilities and that a decade ago they spent $5.8 billion. That is an outrageous increment in the money spent on building new facilities, and that reflects on parents' spending accounts. The worst part of all these massive wastes of money is that it does not improve the academic success of universities. Farrell in the same article provides another example of how colleges are wasting their money; she expresses that the University of Iowa built a 216,000 foot recreation and wellness center at a cost of $69 million. Recreation and wellness center in universities are good for students, but spending $69 million on it is excessive. Universities are not only investing big amounts of money in new edification, but also in sport teams. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus from the Los Angeles Times suggests in the article "College: Where the money goes" that a big part of colleges' budgets are spent on paying for sport team's trips, personalized uniforms, and overpaid coaches. Universities and colleges should promote sports in their communities, because sports do have a positive contribution om the well-being of students. Nevertheless, spending too much money in things that have poor benefits in the academic aspect is wrong, because the academic aspect is the one thing that universities should care about the most.
Another thing that has been affecting and increasing college tuitions are college's urgency and desperation to belong to the first ranks in the annual college rankings. It has become an obsession. Universities and colleges are using all the resources possible to move up in the rankings. The construction of new facilities, the changes in their image, and the handling of their acceptance rates are tools that they have been using over the past years to increase their rankings. Many think alike; Lloyd Thacker, founder of Education Conservancy who is cited by Justin Pope in the Huffington Post in the article "College May Obsess over Rankings, But Students Don't Care." Lloyd stated that "the colleges have shifted resources and changed policies that were once governed by education values to serve prestige rank and status." Many critics are beginning to make the connection of all the policies that universities are implementing with the way their rankings behave. Pope in the same article states that "more than 80 percent of college admissions officers surveyed for a report last fall by the National Association for College Admission Counseling felt the US News rankings offered students misleading conclusions." The rankings are not accurate and the universities know it, but their main customers, the students, only care about rankings. Each day, universities and students are taking more seriously the school's rankings; unfortunately, most students are not aware of how misleading and dubious these rankings really are. Regrettably, universities and colleges are taking advantage of it and are charging high tuitions to these students. Rankings are playing a crucial role in higher education and this has stimulated universities to invest in the areas that those rankers, such as US News, focus on. The ranking system in higher education has made universities and colleges divert from their original mission and objective, and it is having significant effects on students.
College tuition has been skyrocketing in the past few years, and it is provoking an improvement in the quality of education by hiring better staff and investing in research, but at the same time, it is affecting students and families all around the United States that cannot afford it. A huge part of universities' budgets is directed to an overpaid staff, the construction of unnecessary facilities and the sponsoring of sport teams that have poor benefits in the academic aspect, and those investments are made only to improve the university's ranking. This is not fair to the low and mid-income students across the United States, who need a college degree in order to improve their financial situation and their standards of life. Something must be done, because at this rate, less and less students will be able to achieve higher education. For now, most are attending community colleges to lower their costs, but statistics show that tuition at community colleges is beginning to go up. The ranking obsession of colleges and universities should be eliminated, because it diverts schools from their main objective, which is to educate students, and it only causes rises in tuition. College rankings should not be about who has the biggest gym, the newest dorms, or the lowest acceptance rate; college rankings should be based on who provides and prepares best their students for the world out there.
"Not What Is Used to Be." The Economist. 1 Dec. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
"Inflation-Adjusted Published Tuition and Fees, 1980-81 to 2010-11 (1980-81 = 100)." Graph. Trends in College Pricing. College Board,2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2013
DiStefano, Philip P. "University Research Benefits Us All." Denver Post, 31 Jan. 2010. Web. 2013.
Downey, Maureen. "Six-figure Salaries at Public Colleges." AJC. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2013
Eisenberg, Pablo. "Campues Workers' Wages: A Disgrace to Academe." Chronicle. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Farrell, Maureen. "The Building Blocks of Marketing." Forbes, 9 Apr. 2008. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Hacker, Andrew, and Claudia Dreifus. "College: Where the Money Goes." Los Angeles Times, 12 Sept. 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.
Knapp, Laura G., Janice E. Kelly-Reid, and Scott A. Ginder. Enrollment in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009; Graduation Rates, 2003 & 2006 Cohorts; and Financial Statistics, Fiscal Year 2009. Publication no. NCES2011-230. National Center of Education Statistics, Feb. 2011. Web. Apr. 2013.
Pope, Justin. "Colleges May Obsess Over Rankings, But Students Don't Care." Huffington Post, 2 May 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2013.