Speaking to the NYT, Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, said:
“Given the financial hardship of the country, it’s simply astonishing that colleges and universities would have this kind of increases. It tells you that higher education is still a seller’s market. The level of debt we’re asking people to undertake is unsustainable.
“A lot of people think we can solve the problem with more financial aid, but I think we have to have some cost containment. For all the talk about reinventing higher education, I don’t see any results.”
Counting room and board, the College Board says the average total cost of attendance at a public four-year college is now $15,213.
That’s still a deal when compared to the private schools where the average cost is $35,636 for tuition, room and board.
The College Board notes that the sting is not so bad as only a third of students pay the sticker price due to financial aid. However, the report also notes that a lot of that money is now given as merit aid; two-thirds of the grant money at public colleges is merit aid, which doesn’t consider family income. (Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship is one such merit program.)
“It is particularly disturbing that public colleges are using such a large share of their financial aid resources for so-called merit aid in these tough times,” Lauren Asher, president of the Institute for College Access and Success, told the NYT.
As tuition has climbed, so has borrowing by students and their families. A report last year by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education found that tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007 while median family income rose 147 percent. The report said paying for a four-year public college took up about one-quarter of the median family income. A private university swallowed up about three-quarters of the median family income.
Public colleges can and do make the argument that they have had no choice but to raise tuition as state legislatures slashed their funding. However, I still think that spending could be cut in some areas, including the salaries for the top people.
I remember meeting with a roomful of college presidents who said their salaries and those of their cabinet-level staff simply reflected the standard in the profession. “You can’t good people for less,” they said.
I don’t know. Try offering $150,000 rather than $250,000 and see if the caliber of candidate is that much lower.