Public college costs are rising, but still remain a good deal for some families

by Grace

The Wall Street Journal highlights the reasons why public college costs have soared over the last decade, increasing an inflation-adjusted 45% from 2000 to 2010.  At the same time, the situation for many middle-class families is not as dire as it is sometimes portrayed.

Reasons for escalating costs point to the dual problems of lower revenue and runaway spending.

Although state funding has increased over the years, it has failed to keep up with growing enrollment.  Scarce state resources have increasingly been directed to other needs, including Medicaid, prisons, and K-12 education.

Other factors are rising administrative costs, fancy facilities, and lower teaching loads

A number of factors have helped to fuel the soaring cost of public colleges. Administrative costs have soared nationwide, and many administrators have secured big pay increases—including some at CU, in 2011. Teaching loads have declined for tenured faculty at many schools, adding to costs. Between 2001 and 2011, the Department of Education says, the number of managers at U.S. colleges and universities grew 50% faster than the number of instructors. What’s more, schools have spent liberally on fancier dorms, dining halls and gyms to compete for

The University of Colorado at Boulder, like many other schools, is bringing in more foreign students to help the bottom line.

In 2010, officials persuaded lawmakers to exclude foreign students from the cap on out-of-staters—currently 45% of freshmen—arguing that the foreigners would add more global perspective. But they also covet the additional revenue, which officials estimate at $30 million a year. This year, CU is dispatching recruiters to more than a dozen countries, from Latin America to the Middle East.

Others are pursuing the same strategy. At Purdue University, 17% of undergraduates are from outside the U.S., mostly from China, up from 9% in 2009. At the University at Illinois, 13% of this year’s freshmen are foreign students.

Entitlement mentality?

Despite tales of woe, many schools are still affordable for middle class families if they plan ahead.  The Joiner family featured in the WSJ article is paying college costs similar to what Mr. Joiner incurred 25 years ago, yet they seem to feel entitled to a better deal.

Akaysha Joiner, the Aurora girl whose father attended CU in the 1980s, graduated at the top of her high-school class. When she applied, her father was making about $71,000 a year and her mother was temporarily out of work. CU offered her two grants totaling $7,400 and a $5,000 loan, which would cover slightly more than half the annual cost.

Mr. Joiner says that he hadn’t set aside money for Akaysha’s education and was surprised she hadn’t been offered more aid because of her top class ranking, the fact that he and his wife are alumni and that she is the child of a black parent and a Hispanic parent. “I don’t know that I expected a full ride,” he says. “But I had no idea [our payment] was going to be that high….

By fall, Akaysha had won $2,500 in non-CU scholarships, an additional $700 CU scholarship and a work-study job. That left the Joiner family owing about $9,000 for the year, including the cost of the loan. That is similar to what her father paid 27 years ago without any aid, after adjusting for inflation. Her grandfather gave her $4,000 to help out.

Mr. Joiner says the experience has left him wondering whether his two younger children will even “be able to go to a state school—forget about out-of-state.”

Criticism in the comments points out that this case is not such a hardship and Mr. Joiner seems to expect too much.

It didn’t occur to Mr. Joiner to save for his kids education just in case? Even with all of the media reports on soaring college costs?…

He thought she was going to get more preference because “she is the child of a black parent and a Hispanic parent”? But both parents are college graduates…upper-middle class by any sociological definition…why should she be entitled to any preference for her race? Typical liberal mentality…everyone is the member of some victimized special interest and entitled to have society pay her way.

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