The Corner

Education

A Former College President Explains Why College Is a Poor Value

Former professor and college president James V. Koch has written a book that will probably make him persona non grata at higher education gatherings. Entitled The Impoverishment of the American College Student, the book rightly blames our college leaders for the stupendous rise in the cost of going to college. Sure, they pay lip service to educational value and excellence, but the truth is that most of them are maximizing their personal utility at the expense of students and taxpayers.

In today’s Martin Center article, Jenna Robinson reviews Koch’s book. She writes, “Koch starts by describing the dismal landscape of college costs. He cites some alarming statistics. Published tuition and fees for in-state students increased from $7,470 in 1997-1998 to $20,770 in 2017-2018. From June 2000 to June 2016, the increase was 184 percent — almost double the increase in the cost of medical care. Those increases in tuition and fees have far outpaced increases in wages, making it more difficult for low-income and middle-income families to afford college.”

College officials have a bunch of excuses they use to deflect blame for this situation, but Koch sees little merit in them. The main reason for the sharp rise in tuition is that officials haven’t been able to say “no” to the array of expensive stuff that they and the faculty want.

Can anything be done? Our author has some suggestions. Robinson writes, “Koch offers some other modest solutions to the problem of increasing costs, but warns, “it is not clear that many viable, politically acceptable solutions exist.” There are a few ideas he thinks show promise. He suggests that governing boards be restructured and strengthened and that board members be well-trained. Like other reformers, Koch recommends more transparency in university spending. And he wants the actions of public university foundations to be transparent and easily accessible.”

So long as government keeps subsidizing college attendance, I doubt that any set of reforms will accomplish much, but at least we have one more higher ed officials who sees that our current trends are not sustainable.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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