Saturday, June 09, 2012

A Closer Look

(Editorial cartoon by Joel Pett / Lexington Herald-Leader (June 8, 2012) and featured at McClatchy DC. Click on image and then please return.)

The cost of higher education has skyrocketed over the past several decades. College students (and graduate students and professional degree students) are starting off their careers with student loan debts measured in the tens of thousands of dollars and some even in the one hundred thousand dollar range. That's bad enough, but right now, the job market is such that most can't find any work, much less work in their field. The best they can hope for is an internship, usually unpaid, to fill in any potential gap.

So why the huge expense? Why are graduates facing such daunting debt? As I've noted above, the costs of tuition, books, room and board, and fees have all risen over the years. And four years in and then out is no longer the norm: the number of class offerings has dropped, which means students are taking five and even six years to meet graduation requirements. Well, this isn't exactly new news, but I don't think I've seen much to explain in hard terms what precisely is going on.

That is, until today.

The University of Minnesota decided to take a close look at this issue and to actually crunch the numbers.

Leaders of the University of Minnesota got answers Thursday to a question they've been posing for years: How much does it cost to educate a student?

The short answer: $12,055 in 2009-10, on average, for an undergraduate. But the full cost of instruction -- including everything from faculty salaries to electricity -- varies by college, campus and level of study. For undergrads, tuition rarely covered the full cost.

The new analysis is the most precise accounting the university has ever done and will fuel debate between the Board of Regents and President Eric Kaler about where and how to become more efficient as state funding falls. Kaler called the new data "absolutely critical."
[Emphasis added]

The University of Minnesota, like most state university systems, has multiple campuses, so the study extended to each:

On the Twin Cities campus, the most expensive undergraduate degree to provide is in the Carlson School of Management: $16,049. The least expensive is in the College of Education and Human Development: $9,625. Those in charge of the analysis were surprised by the relatively low cost of the College of Science and Engineering, with its many labs: $10,721.

There, courses are set, with a predictable number of students. "The curriculum is a little more lockstep," said Lincoln Kallsen, director of financial research.

Other variables include faculty salaries, cost of equipment and how many courses are taught by teaching assistants.

But wait, there's more: the University has also looked at administrative costs in a more honest way than it had been viewed in the past:

The presentation about costs followed another about the U's plan to redefine employee groups.

Last year, the board debated an internal report that showed a 52 percent increase in the number of jobs labeled "administrative." The report showed 2,157 full-time administrative positions, up by 742 since 2001. Meanwhile, total employment at the U grew less than 11 percent.

But university leaders argue that "professional and administrative" definition is outdated, unreliable and imprecise. They have proposed seven new job categories -- including "direct academic providers," "organizational support," and "university leadership."
[Emphasis added]

Go read the entire article for more detail, it's well worth the effort.

What the University of Minnesota has done is admirable. It has also set the standard for other state systems to do likewise. It's clear to me that one of the biggest problems facing higher education is the lack of financial support from state governments and the federal government. The excuses given are no comfort: we don't have the money.

Well, that won't wash, not when the two candidates for president can raise $135 million in one month and a governor in a smallish fly-over state can raise $6+ million to fight a recall election. There's money out there, just not for the education of our young people.

And that is shameful.



Blogger Charles said...

Briliant Toles cartoon here

8:17 AM  
Blogger Diane said...


Already saw it. In fact it's on tap for tomorrow's "Sunday Funnies," my pick for cartoon of the week.

9:14 AM  

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