The myth of declining public support for higher education | Arkansas Blog

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The myth of declining public support for higher education

Posted By on Sun, Apr 5, 2015 at 8:00 AM

click to enlarge PRICIER: But don't jump to blame rising tuition costs on a decline in government support.
  • PRICIER: But don't jump to blame rising tuition costs on a decline in government support.
Here's a contrarian essay in the New York Times worth reading.

It says that government support for colleges has NOT been dropping as is popularly said (including by me) in noting the inexorable and sharp rise in tuition.

Per student spending has indeed dropped. But the number of students has risen. States are down a bit in recent post-recession years on inflation-adjusted spending, but federal spending (on Pell grants) has expanded enormously. Generally, state spending has risen faster than inflation over the decades, but enrollment growth has outstripped it.

So faculties must be getting rich, right?

Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.

But that money is going somewhere, isn't it? Indeed.

By contrast, a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

I'm reminded of an article by the Uarktransparency blog last year that noted the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville had 161 administrators (including coaches) making more than $100,000. That same article noted a 60 percent increase in administrative positions between 2001 and 2011 against an 18 percent increase in faculty to teach burgeoning UA enrollment.

The same blog noted that those surveys underreported some compensation of the highest-level administrators.

Arkansas colleges were protected from cuts in the state budget this year, too after some decent increases in the Beebe years. But if enrollment continues to grow, the per student support will decline a bit more. And tuition will likely continue to edge up. 

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