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NY Times op-ed suggestion: reduce college costs for the wealthy, um, “middle class”

Today in the NY Times, Steve Cohen argues that the federal government should reform the criteria by which families’ “expected family contribution” (EFC) is determined.  The EFC is the amount a family is expected to pay to a college or university for student costs, as opposed to what students can get from Pell Grants, loans, and an institution’s financial aid apparatus.  Taking as his example a family of four with an income of $100,000, Cohen argues that the EFC should be lower, allowing “middle class families” to pay less.  I’m all for making college more affordable for everyone, but that’s not what Cohen’s about in this article.  Without more money in the system either for aid directly to students or to fund universities, or lowered overall college costs that can be passed on to students, his solution to have well-to-do families pay less would only increases costs for students from US households lower down the economic scale (which is 72.3% of them, according to this calculator) than what he thinks as a prototypical “middle class family.”  It solves none of the really tough cost problems in higher education–rather, it only serves to feed the gripes of well-to-do Times readers, most of whom are not middle-class, but upper class.  What we really should do is to make college free for everyone.

At long last, public-college faculty say: Take that, inflation!

As reported in the Chronicle, faculty salaries at public institutions increased at a higher rate than inflation this past year — for the first time in six years (and yes, friends, please note that the legend of the chart in the article mis-labels “public” and “private”).

So if someone tells you that faculty are responsible for college costs increasing more quickly than inflation, they’re flat-out wrong.

You could look it up: lower state funding for higher ed, higher costs for poor students

Don’t just take my word for it.  Two new online calculators show a) how state support of higher education as a proportion of universities’ budgets has plummeted, and b) how recent policies at the federal, state, and institutional level have combined to increase poor students’ costs in relative and even absolute terms compared to rich students.  In either one, you can look up hundreds of institutions.  BGSU my august institution for some reason isn’t on the first one, but it is one the student cost tracker one, and the results are shameful.  Between the 2008-2009 year and the 2011-2012 year, net price in inflation-adjusted dollars for poor students (defined as family income less than $30k) went from $10,765 to $13,966; that’s an increase of $3,201, or nearly 30%.  For rich students (defined as family income over $110K), net price barely budged, rising from $18,817 to $19,236, an increase of $419, or a smidgen above 2%.  Some of these are beyond the scope of BGSU my august institution’s ability to address.  But not scholarships.

Privatization: Not “cutting costs,” merely externalizing them

One of the continuing myths of the privatization craze in higher education is that outsourcing functions results in lower costs.  Here’s BGSU my august university’s president on the recent deal to privatize flight instruction, as reported in the Sentinel-Tribune:

President Mary Ellen Mazey told the trustees that this is the kind of collaboration with outside entities the university is pursuing to enhance programs while keeping costs down.  She cited the Falcon Health Center as another example.

But, short of magic, how can a corporation manage to make a profit, charge a university less money, and offer the same services as the university did?  Sure, there may be some efficiencies on the part of the company, but not much.  Usually, it happens through either cutting services or finding money elsewhere.  In BGSU’s my august university’s case, it’s by doing both.  And, come to think of it, the health center is a perfect example.

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