Unfortunately, higher education has seen a shift in recent years towards college being more about a life experience than an education. One of our students at Eternity recently surveyed a large group of other college students attending schools throughout a nearby county to better understand their culture. One respondent said something to the effect that “I only have two months left of college and I need to make the most of it. I’m going to party every night.” That same person’s parent agreed that it’s just what you do during that time of life so she might as well do it now while she can.
The Cost of Experience
The implications of such a shift are significant and can be evidenced in the budgets of many institutions of higher education. Large amounts of money are pumped into athletics, administrative and operational costs that have very little to with student instruction. Gaining an “experience” isn’t necessarily bad, except that the typical college experience does little to prepare students for real life in society. Knowing that the average student is leaving their collegiate program with $30,000 in debt, I think a series of questions need to be asked to really consider why education costs are so high and whether the experience is worth it:
1.How much money is spent on athletics?
A study of college budgets (both public and private) from 1998-2008 found that between 2005 and 2008, median athletic spending per student athlete was between four to ten times higher than median spending per student for education & related expenses. The follow up question is inevitable. Is it really right/just to have a number of students go into debt so that other students may play games?
2. How much money is being spent on facilities & grounds?
Is having a nice fountain, nicely manicured lawns & fresh flowers every week (yes, I know of multiple schools that plant new flowers weekly) worth students going into debt?
3. What are the salaries of administrators? Most institutions are paying their administration strong six figure salaries, but those salaries are being funded on the backs of student debt.
4. How much do institutions spend on research?
A lot of people who have no business teaching classes are doing so simply to fund their research at universities. Students often suffer as they struggle to learn under instructors who are very intelligent, but are poor translators of knowledge.
5. What is the real cost of instruction?
The study already cited found that “among all types of institutions, the share of spending going to pay for the direct cost of instruction has declined slightly.” Did you catch that? While overall spending has increased dramatically, schools spend less on actual instruction of students!
These questions, along with many others, need to be answered. Are these things essential to higher education (yes, we need administration, but do they need to be paid that much?) or are these things simply adding to the cost of higher education & subsequently adding to the debt load of students?
The standard response is that the athletic programs & the facilities contribute to the recruitment of new students, which in turn provides additional revenue streams for the institution or that the athletic programs often generate revenue for schools (which is only true of top tier NCAA D1 football & basketball programs). But neither of these actually addresses the issue. These things contribute to the overall operating cost of the institution and do not contribute to the academic outcomes of the school. If they do, where’s the evidence? It would seem that modern institutions have been shaped to provide students with an experience rather than simply an education, and students are paying dearly for this.