Whoa, Nellie, on increasing college tuition



I once said to my students, not entirely in jest, when I taught freshman composition at Lone Star College, “Why would you want to take this comp class at UT when you can take it here?  There your instructors would likely be graduate students only a few years older than you, with little classroom experience.  Here the instructors have Ph.Ds, as I do, or Master’s Degrees, seasoned by years of teaching experience.  There the cost of the comp class would be some $1,000; here some $200.”

We know from a Freedom of Information Act request that tenured professors generally teach only two classes per semester, with some 15 students in a class.  We are told that these professors spend the balance of their time publishing articles or books or doing research.  Not so.  The FOIA results revealed that at UT only 20 percent of the faculty do most of the university’s publishing, the remaining 80 percent little publishing.  Moreover, Derek Bok, former president of Harvard University for 20 years, reported that “only half of all professors publish as much as one article a year.”  Bok also said that “universities are like riverboat gamblers and exiled royalty:  their desires are never satisfied.”

Why do universities permit this abuse?  It is because they can get away with it.  The university system throughout this country is an understood cartel:  University A can raise tuition each year because they know universities B through Z will raise it.  There’s safety in numbers.

Economist Herb Stein once said, “What can’t go on forever, won’t.”  But it will:  I have no doubt that it will one day cost $30 or$40 or $50,000 a year in tuition to attend major public universities in Texas and the country.  That is because there will always be more than enough wealthy parents to pay that amount, believing the cost worth it for the future success of their children.

And that’s the rub:  college is becoming more and more and more only for rich kids.  You would think that political leaders in Austin might step in to correct these abuses.  But they won’t because it’s too risky.  If a politician takes on, say, UT for excessive tuition costs, UT’s alumni, supporters, associations are large and powerful enough to turn the questioning politician out of office.

Scholar and researcher, Jorge Klor de Alva points out the widening disparity between rich and poor kids.  In a study published by the American Enterprise Institute, he reports:  “Among not-for-profit institutions, the amount of taxpayer subsidies hovers between $1,000 and $2,000 per student per year until we turn to the most selective institutions. . . . Among these already well -endowed institutions, the tax subsidy jumps substantially to more than $13,000 per student per year.”

At Lone Star College, where I’m a trustee, 69 percent of our students are minority.  Take a peek at UT or A & M for this percentage.   As a trustee at a community college, I have stated publicly that I would ten times over prefer to be a trustee at a community college serving poor kids than a Regent at a big, prestigious school.  Yet legislators  continue to give the lion’s share of funds to the rich schools.  UT has an endowment of $26.5  billion; A & M $11.5 billion. They are the richest public schools in the world.  But they still every year raise tuition.  Mitch Daniels had the courage and honesty to say, Whoa, Nellie, to tuition increases.    There are fair, realistic ways to cut college costs (that’s another paper), but the elite schools prefer to act like riverboat gamblers and exiled royalty.

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