Senior Lilly Myers’ took the methodical approach for choosing colleges to apply to. She applied to six schools, creating a list with both private and public schools, that had a range of admissions difficulties. Although she was unable to visit, the University of Southern California (USC) seemed perfect to her after intensive online research and conversations with an admissions representative. It had stellar academics, a diverse social scene and great weather. Myers was elated when she found out that she had gotten into USC in late March. Unfortunately, Myers is unable to attend due to the great financial burden it would put on herself and her family.
When it comes time to decide what school to attend out of the ones a student got into, price often eliminates some choices altogether. In a Harbinger survey of 104 seniors, 32 percent reported that cost prohibited them from considering at least one of the schools. A restructuring of the university system for better management of tuition funds would allow universities in the U.S. to do more with less.
Cost shouldn’t remain as the determining factor in a student’s decision to attend a certain college or not. Students shouldn’t be forced to make decisions about which college to attend based on price, and should instead be able to make the decision based upon things important to the experience, such as academics and atmosphere. And while increasing financial aid offerings would help, they aren’t long-term solutions. To solve the problem, the universities need to rethink and completely restructure the methods in which they spend students’ money to make it more affordable for the students to attend first-choice-school.
A student attending the average public university can expect to pay $29,657 a year at sticker price, including tuition and room and board, according to a survey by the College Board for the 2011-12 school year. However, the most prestigious universities in the United States happen to be private—the top 20 universities on US News and World Report’s 2012 list of the best universities are all private. Private universities had an average sticker price of $38,589 a year, according to the College Board’s survey. Unlike at public universities, where students rarely pay full sticker price, because of greater government assistance, at private universities students are 10 percent more likely to go into debt to pay for their education, with the average debt per borrower at $28,100.
Student debt is a big problem, and inflation is not to blame for the rise. Tuition and fees at universities for 2011-2012 rose an average of 4.6 percent from the previous school year, which exceeds the rate of inflation of 3.16 percent, according to a survey by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Instead, the problem rests with inefficient management of tuition dollars by schools, where tuition dollars are spent on items of questionable importance to students’ educations.
It’s unlikely that some of the expensive perks that universities are providing to students like free laundry service at Davidson College and free housekeeping at Trinity University are improving the quality of education, and can be gotten rid of.
It doesn’t make sense for undergraduates to be funding the university’s research program. Federal grants, in many cases, are unable to fully support university’s research programs, and so many schools, like the University of Rhode Island, turn to tuition dollars to bail out research programs. While research is good for the public, English majors shouldn’t be subsidizing physicists. Their money should only be spent on the things that are directly related to their education—most of it should go towards teaching.
Next, the universities need to reorganize their administrative models by eliminating bloat. Schools spend an average of $7,000 per student per year on “administrative support” according to the Economist. These costs aren’t just spent on the deans, but also on psychologists and human resources managers. While these administrators are nice to have around, colleges can educate their students without, or at least with fewer of them.
Schools should also reevaluate class sizes. Studies show people generally prefer smaller classes, but the research and studies into the effect of class size are inconclusive as to whether they provide better education. Large class size does not reduce the ability for students to learn in economics classes, according to a 2002 study published in the College Student Journal. Furthermore, most business and law schools already do well with large classes. Schools should look into what classes are best served by smaller, discussion-oriented sizes, and which ones can be equally effective with more people. With a larger student to teacher ratio for certain areas of study, schools could save money and be just as effective.
Myers is not alone. She is one of many students who are unable to attend the school of their dreams—ones that they worked hard to get into—because of cost. Schools need to get creative, and soon. Reducing the cost of education should be a top priority.