Why are college tuition rates going up?

Why are college tuition rates going up?

Theoretically, tuition increases wouldn't be a major issue if the income levels for families were rising at a similar rate, but they aren't. In fact, in Tennessee, they're going the other way.[18] According to the College Board, tuition and fees at public universities have increased 130 percent over that last two decades, while “middle class incomes” have essentially been flat.[19]

Leaving aside state budget problems, there are other hidden costs that are influencing the cost of a degree. At public colleges, tuition has generally been driven up by rising spending on administrators, student support services, and the need to make up for reductions in government subsidies, according to a report issued by the Delta Cost Project.[20] When schools talk about improving “student services”, they are often referring to such non-instruction expenditures as recreation centers, computer systems, housing and food, which play a significant role in tuition rates.[21]

Questions about the future of higher education

So, if higher education is about to price a larger and larger portion of the county's population out of its services, but citizens with more education can expect to learn more, is the U.S. effectively destroying its future workforce? And for those who can still afford their post-secondary schooling, are they paying more for less?

Some solutions like Online Learning already exist

If tuition is on the rise in part due to increased overhead (“student services”) at colleges, it would logically follow that delivering content and instruction in a more cost-effective manner should be a top priority. Free market advocates will naturally point to a more open system with increased competition leading to choice, innovation, improvement, and cost-containment.

Another avenue to consider is online learning, even if only utilized in a blended capacity with more traditional delivery methods. Online learning removes the need for some of the more costly aspects of education, boiling education down to the delivery of instruction and content, while stripping away some of the need for traditional brick-and-mortar student services.

Back in 2009, the U.S. Department of Education released the results of a commissioned study on the role of technology in good teaching.[22] The study, “Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies”, found that blended instruction (online with face-to-face) was generally most effective. Surprisingly, exclusively online learning was more successful at raising overall student achievement than exclusively face-to-face instruction.[23]

Online learning comes in many forms. Many brick and mortar institutions, from Thomas Edison State College to Colorado State University, are now offering online courses to their students. Schools like the rapidly expanding Western Governors University and Excelsior College are fully online. For-profit institutions like Kaplan University and DeVry Institute offer both online and offline options. Even non-accredited educational providers like StraighterLine offer low-cost, self-paced online courses that are reviewed and recommended by the American Council on Education for students that intend to save as much money as they can before they transfer to a 4-year institution.

So, while American's economic prospects are tied to being a world leader in the global information age, the country's education system needs to update its education system. Fortunately, families have some choice as to how they pay for education. As higher education grapples with revenue and expense issues, online delivery of education becomes a more enticing option for students looking to improve their future career prospects.


Endnotes

[18] Ibid.

[19] http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/13/news/economy/college_tuition_middle_class/index.htm

[20] http://www.deltacostproject.org/resources/pdf/News-Release-Trends-98_08.pdf

[21] http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2011/03/02/minn-tuition/

[22] http://www2.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2009/06/06262009.html

[23] http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf