The Corner

Education

Should Undergrads Pay for University Research Costs?

Almost everyone agrees that higher education in America costs more than it ought to. Tuition is higher than necessary for many reasons, one of them the fact that research universities usually lump together expenses for teaching and research.

In today’s Martin Center piece, Anthony Hennen explores this problem. He writes, “Public colleges spend public money, but college officials are reluctant to make information about their budgets easy to understand. That aversion to transparency makes it easier to pass non-instructional expenses along to students.”

This is not a minor matter. Professor Vance Fried of Oklahoma State estimates that as much as 40 percent of reported instructional costs are really for research. By combining the two, university officials can and do increase tuition, or in the case of public institutions, request that legislators do so.

The root of the problem is poor accounting standards that allow officials to commingle instructional and research costs.

Hennen concludes, “Until public colleges are more transparent about how they classify costs, researchers can only make educated guesses about why one school spends so much more than another. One thing is fairly clear, though: Research activity makes educating students more expensive.”

Correct, and I would add that if officials had to be transparent about costs, they might do a better job of curtailing faculty research that nobody ever reads.

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

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