Cultural Psychology

The Injustice of High College Tuition

with 3 comments

I met a college student last weekend and promised her I’d put a post online about the outrageously high cost of college tuition.  I’m working on some figures now and hope to post a chart by tomorrow.

Meanwhile the bottom line remains the same.  It doesn’t matter much which inflation indices or economic indicators one looks at.  The brute fact is that when I went to college in the 70’s, students in California didn’t have to take out loans, but today they to have to.  Big loans, too.

1.  This indicates that we are moving backwards, not forward in terms of higher education in our society.

2. It is unjust, absurd, and socially counterproductive in the extreme to subject youth to this burden.

3. They are being taken advantage of, because they lack the historical perspective to understand that this was not the case 25 or 30 years ago.

4.  Nobody is speaking up for them or representing their interests.

5.  If anything, the costs of a college education should be declining (relative to the cost of living) because computer and internet technology can be used to facilitate distance learning, video lectures, etc.

More on this topic later…


Written by John Uebersax

July 14, 2009 at 12:43 am

3 Responses

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  1. why do you think the cost of college is going up?


    October 21, 2009 at 5:51 am

    • Maybe one reason is simply that nobody has identified as a priority keeping it down or reducing it. As they say, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” If people felt in their heart that we should do our best to make sure that everybody could go to college, we’d find a way to do it. I just don’t know how many people let themselves feel how important this is. Another part of the problem is that families and students accept it. As long as there are families willing to dish out $20,000/year on tuition, we can be fairly certain the universities will continue to do this.

      A third, very basic economic factor, is regulation. You have to receive government accreditation to confer university degrees. That amounts to a kind of monopoly among existing universities.

      John Uebersax

      October 30, 2009 at 3:08 am

  2. I suspect that a reason may be increase in administration.
    In my experience around universities, I have noticed quite
    an administrative presence and, in talking to older
    academics, I often get the impression that, over the years,
    the number of administrators has increased out of proportion
    to growth of other parts of the institution. This is only
    my impression based on casual observation and hearsay, so it
    should be checked against facts such as the budgets of
    universities — whether on not the hunch is correct, it would
    certainly help the discussion to pinpoint which sectors of
    university budgets have risen faster than inflation over the
    last few decades.

    I agree that accreditation and monopoly are important factors,
    let me expand on the theme. As I see it, a major issue is not
    so much that universities have a monopoly of certifying individuals
    as knowledgeable in various fields but that this function is not
    exercised independently of the function of educating. Even though
    one may have spent much time studying an academic subject on one’s
    own or been taught outside a university classroom and become quite
    knowledgeable and proficient thereby, it is nevertheless hard to be
    taken seriously one has a relevant university diploma — without
    one, things like being hired in one’s field of study or publishing
    one’s findings in scholarly presses are not likely to happen.
    Aside from some universities which assign credit for life experience
    (but, AFAIK, this is limited to only part of the credit needed to
    graduate) or the rare event of receiving an honorary diploma, the
    only way to have a university certify one’s knowledge would be to
    go through the motions of learning the subject in their classrooms,
    with the concommittant tuition fee.

    For contrast, consider operating an automobile or transmitting on radio.
    Here, whilst certification may be required to do these things legally,
    it is decoupled from the process of education. In these cases, testing
    and assignment of licenses is carried out by government agencies (MVD,
    and FCC, respectively) and it doesn’t matter how or where one learned as
    long as one passes the government exam. While many aspirants to these
    licenses learn the relevant skills and knowledge by going to a school,
    one could just as well study on one’s own or, if the schools are charging
    too much, one could look for a free-lance teacher or try some alternative
    school which is more cost-effective than the usual ones.

    I wonder whether it would be possible to do something similar with academic
    subjects and whether this wouldn’t make a significant impact on the price
    of higher education. Passing over the important questions of how this might
    come about or how it might be implemented, let me put forth a few arguments
    as to why it might help the situation.

    As I see it, the rationale for accreditation pertains more to the certification
    function than the education function. In order for someone to take a diploma
    seriously, that person needs reasonable confidence that degrees are only
    conferred on individuals who have demonstrated a certain level of proficiency
    and knowledge. Since any one person can only base such confidence on personal
    knowledge for a handful of institutions, accreditation serves an important role
    in assuring people that a diploma from an unfamiliar institution can be taken
    at face value.

    Once the certification function is taken care of separately, I see no reason to
    regulate teaching strictly since the danger that an incompetent person might be
    passed off as an expert has been taken care of elsewhere. To be sure, there still
    might be regulation to ensure things like truth in advertising by schools and
    there might be voluntary certification of schools but there none of this would
    entail a monopoly on teaching which leads to official certification.
    I think that, should such a situation arise, many people would likely still go to
    universities to learn as they do now but that market economics would keep tuition
    in line with other prices and oppose inefficient practices such as classes in
    which the majority of the students routinely fail.


    December 19, 2009 at 7:51 am

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