If you are in your 50s or 60s, you probably recall what it cost for you to get a college education. Among those living in my middle class town on Long Island, college was a privilege and not a “right” or “requirement.” A lot of kids who were in my high school graduating class thought they were lucky to get into community college- and that’s as far as they went. Many were happy to be accepted into one of the New York state colleges where the tuition was hundreds of dollars a semester- significantly more affordable than a private school. Most of us worked over the summer or during school to help our parents pay for the cost.
The difference is that, unlike today, back in the 70’s and early 80’s four years of undergraduate school- even at a private institution- did not equate to a third or more of the average family’s total income. Parents did not have to re-finance the family home in order to suck out all of the built-up equity so they could make a deposit on a child’s college education.
Up, Up and Away
According to Iosue and co-author Dr. Frank Mussano, every year “from 1974 to the present, tuition across the country has [grown] at twice the rate of inflation.” Over the years, a worried Congress has held hearings: How could America remain competitive with the rest of the world if our young people could not afford a proper college education? “Presidents of colleges blamed [the increased cost on] everything but reducing the teaching load- including the higher cost of heating oil,” says Iosue, who also testified as some hearings.
In fact, the actual number of hours professors spent teaching in the classroom dropped from 15 hours/week in the 1960s to 12 hours/week in the mid-1970s to 9 hours/week the next decade. But apparently they still felt over-worked. After all, there was research to conduct, papers to get published (in order to receive that much-cherished tenure), faculty committee meetings to attend, etc.
The Great Administrative Expansion
“As colleges reduced the teaching load of faculty in the late ‘80s, schools started packing in non-teaching staff,” explains Iosue. Some of this is understandable, such as the need for increased campus security or a sophisticated technology team that can handle both the computing needs of students as well as the school itself. However, even accounting for such necessities, he characterizes the overall increase in pure administrative staff as “staggering.”
“The University of Minnesota has one non-teaching staff member for every 3.5 students.” From 1980 to 1993, the number of students attending the University of Pennsylvania went up by 29 students. “Over the same 13-year period, they added 1,820 administrators and other non-teaching staff!”
Reaching for Ratings
The media has also played a role in the rising cost of attending college. You know those “Best Colleges in America” surveys that come out every year? Guess what a key factor is- the cost of attending! Again, it’s assumed that the higher the cost, the better the education one receives.
For the 15 years that their careers at York College overlapped, the two men made sure that the price to attend the school would not increase faster than the cost-of-living index. Eventually the media got wind of this and began asking how they were able to accomplish this. In fact, despite holding the lid on tuition and fees, Mussano proudly points out that “SAT scores improved, enrollment went up, standards improved and so did the stature of the college.”