“25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College” Part 1

The Center for College Affordability has produced a report entitled “25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College”. This is the first of a three part series outlining their recommendations.

Many colleges and universities make decisions that have long term effects on the cost of tuition. Several effective cost cutting measures are discussed below.

The idea of tenure has been around for decades but with the new increases in tuition, this option seems less useful. Consequently colleges are hiring more non-tenure track professors. Since these positions are still being filled it shows that even a non-tenured faculty position is still desirable. Consequently faculty does not need to be filled with tenure-track professors to retain a strong teaching force.

More innovative ways of teach could help limit institutional costs. Emphasizing more online courses would reduce costs, improve learning outcomes, and expand the access of students. This would increase the outreach to students all over the country who can enroll in the institution all while preserving the college’s reputation for academic integrity.

Textbooks are another source of college costs. Every semester students wait and wait and wait in hope their professor never uses the book because the prices are so expensive. If every college would utilize online sources for textbooks, this would reduce the cost and help lower the real cost of college. This could also take place in the library, where digitizing the system would increase access to online resources all while lowering cost.

Since many internet providers offer free email services, colleges should utilize these services rather than outsourcing to more expensive platforms.

States could also make the higher education system more cost efficient by subsidizing  students through grants instead of directly providing money to colleges. Students could then use their grant money to shop for the highest quality/least expensive education, which would force colleges to be more competitive.

Overall, some believe that to cut costs the college needs to take a serious hit in its quality to make this happen. Actually this is not true.  Turning competition from reputation to quality of teaching, by providing more information about education, could lead to colleges focusing more on the classroom and cutting unnecessary costs that improve the “appeal” of the college.

The History of State Funding for Higher Education

University of Louisville History Professor John Cumbler has an interesting piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal concerning the historical development of state higher education funding. He argues that higher education was mostly provided by elite institutions through the Civil War period. This changed with 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act which led to 69 land-grant colleges designed primarily to educate teachers. These new colleges were not as academically rigorous as the elite private institutions, thus leading to a bifurcated system of higher education.

This changed at the beginning of the 20th Century based on the “Wisconsin Idea” model. Cumbler states:

The heart of the Wisconsin Idea was to initiate a graduated tax and pour the additional revenue into the university, making it a university of excellence which would serve the state by providing both the highest quality education for its citizens, regardless of their economic status, and by being a center for research and invention which would serve the state. The Wisconsin model became so successful that other states around the country looked to combine excellence and accessibility in higher education by pouring public funds into higher education.

It was not until the advent of the GI Bill in the post-World War II era that affordability and quality were joined together at state universities. States began viewing universities as a source of economic development, both through the jobs they provided in college towns and the educated workforce they provided.

However, in recent years the notion of a high-quality, inexpensive public university has begun to fall out of favor. Cumbler argues that

despite the obvious advantages of this model, which combines excellence with accessibility, because it is expensive at a time when there are other legitimate demands on limited state funds, increasingly states are slowly retreating toward the older two-tier model of higher education.

He concludes that

[i]n the short term states will save money. In the long term it is a strategy for stagnation and loss.