9 Ways You’re Getting Less for Your Dollar at College
Printer-friendly versionPDF version
a a
 
Type Size: Small
Karlee Weinmann
The Fiscal Times
August 24, 2011

Since 1978, the tuition at U.S. universities has skyrocketed more than 900 percent, rising at twice the rate of inflation.  For most products and services, a price spike this extreme would depress sales, but in the case of American colleges, more students than ever before are paying the price to finance their educations by taking out five- and six-figure loans

Instead of receiving a higher-quality education for the inflated price, students are getting a lot less for their dollar.

For many years, the quality of education at public and private universities has been declining--not a good omen as highly qualified graduates from other countries vie for jobs in the global economy. Instead of insisting and more rigorous standards for students, U.S. colleges have started to look more like efficiently-run factories, pushing students through big lecture-based classes, pandering to students with courses on pop culture, and handing out degrees without much examination as to the knowledge or skills the student has gained upon graduation. 

Budget cuts are only exacerbating the problem. In the past few years, courses or programs have been eliminated, graduate student teachers have replaced more professors, and classrooms are packed to overcapacity. At the public University of California, where in-state tuition is roughly one-third the cost of the top private colleges, funds have been slashed by a double-digit percentage while tuition fees jumped. At the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, students will feel the loss of $33.5 million in funding this year, marking what its chancellor called the school’s most fiscally challenging year since the economic downturn began.

As more universities are squeezed, the prevailing concern remains not what the school can do for its students, but instead what the school can do for itself – that means bringing in research dollars, trimming costs and raising tuition. “[College] just isn’t delivering what it should be delivering,” says Andrew Hacker, a professor at Queens College who co-wrote Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids – And What We Can Do About It.

There’s an implicit contract between all parties, says Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein: kids don’t want to work hard because they’re kids, professors don’t want to work too hard because they have other demands on their time (like research), and administrators steer clear of encouraging more challenging curricula because it could cause a loss of student interest – and dropouts mean a drop in dollars, too.

Here are nine ways college students are getting less for their money:

1. Fewer Courses

When the number of faculty members is slashed, so is the availability of classes. Budget cuts have forced some schools to pare down even required courses , heightening competition to secure a spot in must-take classes and potentially threatening timely graduation. In some cases, schools have eliminated entire programs: SUNY Albany, forced by budget cuts to eliminate some of its less-popular programs,  has phased out French, Russian, and Italian; theater; and classics, which focuses on Greek and Roman civilizations.

2. A Less Demanding Environment

Want an easy A? Go to college. Professors worry that rigorous grading could come at the cost of student interest and enrollment. In a climate where colleges are increasingly run as business operations, the customer is always right, and students are calling the shots on grades. More and more, administrators are judging the success of the professor by using student evaluations, and sites like RateMyProfessors are causing teachers to inflate students’ grades despite questionable achievement.