Why college is so expensive and what CSU should do about it

Dan Rice

Dan Rice
Dan Rice

The story we have been told all our lives is that we should get good grades in school so we can get into a good college, which will in turn lead us to getting a good job. This implies a direct correlation between a college degree and a good job, as though employers will see a college degree on an applicant’s résumé and say to themselves, “Perfect. They have a college degree. They are clearly qualified for this position. Hired.”

I’m being overly cynical here, but you get the idea. For some jobs, like being, say, a doctor, an employer would be foolish to not take an applicant’s qualifications into account. For others, the value of a college degree is questionable at best.

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Being a college student myself who is getting ready to graduate in May, I see value in my education. I have learned a lot from my teachers and peers alike, some of it out of textbooks, but the more important things are what I’ve learned about life. I think college is a great stepping stone into the “real world,” as they call it, an opportunity to transition into the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood that high school by no means prepares us for. We can get lousy jobs in order to appreciate getting a good one later in life (which college graduates get more often than those without them), live in the dorms without our parents but with certain responsibilities taken care of for us and have some time to figure out our path in life.

Yet despite these valuable aspects of college, Bloomberg reported that college enrollment in the United States is decreasing. There are likely several reasons for this, but there is little doubt that the rapid increase in the cost of tuition plays a large part in this. According to the New York Times, college tuition has quadrupled in the last 35 years. Sure, inflation contributes to this fact, but as the same article points out, if the average price of a car had risen by the same amount, cars would cost $80,000 on average today.

There isn’t the slightest chance that costs rising that quickly is sustainable, and the fact that college enrollment is decreasing overall is evidence of that. So the question becomes this: Why are college costs rising so fast?

The common reasoning is that public funding has decreased, leaving students to pick up the bill in their tuition. In fact, the opposite is true (even adjusting for inflation): In 2009, public funding reached a record high of $86.6 billion before the recession.

So the next assumption is that this has to do with the rising salaries of teachers, but this too is incorrect: On average, teachers are paid less in inflation-adjusted dollars than they were in 1970. Where is all this money going?

The answer: administration. The number of administrative positions at colleges increased 60 percent from 1993 to 2009, and as Colorado State University (to their credit) reports on their website, they are no exception. In the 2013-2014 school year, 26 percent of CSU employees were faculty, while 42 percent were “administrative professionals.” This school year, 25 percent of CSU’s employees are faculty and 45 percent were administrators.

Now, I’m not saying administration is unimportant to a college. Someone has to keep track of the finances, enrollment and various costs here. But 122 people are listed as “president,” whatever that means (we need 122 presidents to the school?), in CSU’s report. 632 are listed under “University operations” and a whopping 741 are listed under the vaguest of them all, “student affairs.” And realistically, if you have the title of “president” of a college, or work directly under someone who does, are you being paid more or less than teachers, who are doing the job that is by far the most important to an institution for learning?

I am by no means pointing fingers at a single individual at CSU. I am sure many of these people have important jobs that the college could not function without. But when I go to Financial Services, for example, or TILT, or any of the administrative buildings and see tons of people who are not particularly busy because students either don’t know about (or don’t care about) the services they offer, I cannot help but question whose pockets my $50,000 of in-state college debt is lining. And when I am told of a time in America’s history when college students could work full-time over the summer and make enough money to pay off their college tuition, I can’t help but wonder why these “administrative professionals” can’t find a way to make college more affordable – both for their own sake and for ours.

Collegian Columnist Dan Rice can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @danriceman.