How to Cut the Price of Higher Ed: Don't Pay It

Categories: Schutze

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So Teresa Sullivan, the president who didn't cut costs at the University of Virginia, got her job back anyway.

Meanwhile making the rounds of newspaper op-ed pages is an essay by Jeff Selingo, editorial director of The Chronicle of Higher Education, saying the way to get college costs down is more online courses. Selingo, not coincidentally, is flogging a book he's working on dealing with the same topic.

You know what? If it's really possible to study the American novel online, then maybe the better bet is to just not study it.

Does nobody ever want to talk about the real problem? I do. The reason the sticker on a fancy college degree has soared so absurdly over the last 20 years is that too many Americans are suckers for a fancy college degree.

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Is this really what you want for your kid?
They're not even trying to buy an education for their kids. They're trying to buy them into into the Secret Order of the Upper Class Skull and Bones Juju Men. Who, by the way, do not exist.

People do not pay 50 grand a year so their kid can get the best possible introduction to Ovid. They pay that money because they think it's the price of admission to the aristocracy.

It's not. It's the price of admission to the same old grunt paycheck middle class their parents belonged to. Go look at Payscale.com, a site quoted in The New York Times and other major media: A degree from the University of Texas at Austin buys you mid-career average annual earnings of $89,500; a degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign puts you at $94,300; Yale will get you $105,000 at mid-career.

So is the difference between 105 grand a year and 89.5 really worth hocking the house and leaving grandma under a bridge? Maybe you could not hock the house, send the kid to Austin instead of New Haven and preach really hard to him about how much money he will save over his lifetime if he quits smoking.

Sure, the cost of higher ed has soared. But it's the private schools that lead the pack, and they are way way out front. Department of Education numbers show that the cost in inflation-adjusted dollars of a public university degree rose by 380 percent between 1980 and 2010, but the cost of a private university degree in the same period rose by 570 percent.

Why? Because they're private, they can charge what they want, so they charge what the market will bear.

But why does the market bear? Oh, please, do not drag out your fake raccoon coat and your plastic ukulele and start singing me a bad version of The Whiffenpoof Song.

Whiffenbullshit. Maybe if you went there yourself and you have good memories, sure, I might believe you. But most people who sell their souls to buy that kind of degree for a kid are doing it because they think it buys the kid into the aristocracy.

The first rude shock the kid's going to get is that the aristocracy pretty much went out with Thurston Howell III on Gilligan's Island. And that's the good news.

This is a much more openly competitive society than it was a half century ago. We are now in the Golden Age of the scholarship kids, and I don't begrudge those kids one nickel of it. If they can talk Harvard into giving it to them for free, then good for them.

The families that make me want to cry and scream, though, are those who plunge themselves into debt, or, worse, plunge the kid, to pay for this stuff themselves. That's a bleak and awful sucker's game. It's a mistake. A tragic mistake.

I personally don't give a shit what it costs to go to UVA (which is a public university, but was founded by Thomas Jefferson, so ...) but if we all really think the most important thing in the world is to get the costs down at Virginia, the way to do it is stop paying those prices. Let UVA see what it can get out of Thurston Howell the Fifth. Or Thurston Howell and his fifth, as the case may be.

Last year there was a study that totted up the cost of a medical degree from top private schools, factored in some student loans, accounted for years of earnings lost while in school, then compared the outcome of the expensive private medical degree with being a licensed plumber.

The physician came out ahead. He or she wound up with an average annual disposable income that was $423 more per year than the plumber's.

When's the last time you tried to get an appointment with a plumber? Now tell me who's the aristocrat.

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Judd D. Bradbury
Judd D. Bradbury

Jim I think you have raised a very good conversation. At the heart of the matter is the cost of a degree for the middle class.(insert own definition of MC, quibbling is a distraction) This is real and is being discussed inside universities. Like anything else there have to be incentives to become more cost efficient. The market based lever you suggested with a boycott of pricing is interesting but it will not work. All of the available supply at US universities will be soaked up by international demand. So what is the lever? I am a lot more concerned about the lack of demand coming from US students for technical degrees. The technical program graduates are in high demand. This will only increase over time. Yet many of our young people pass on these degrees because they are "technical". I do my part to explain that Technical = The American Dream. It is not easy, you have to work for it, there is international competition, but you end up living pretty well.

Please Retire Jim
Please Retire Jim

Over the past few years Schutze has gone so far away from rational thinking that he's no longer amusing. His underlying bitterness towards those who are doing better than him financially or otherwise colors his attitudes to the point where today he is no more a journalist than any random basement dwelling tinfoil hat wearing blogger. Jim, it's past time for you to retire from writing. The readers of the Dallas Observer deserve better.

Gus Mitchem
Gus Mitchem

 Or in the case of medical, keeping the decision makers (patients) as naive or scared as possible to the point where the guys selling the stuff  (hospitals) become the decision makers is it any wonder that hospitals are sprouting like weeds ?

Gus Mitchem
Gus Mitchem

 Yes the sweetheart deal is that UT gets what they need and atm gets the rest Currently the legislators setup a bit of a competition between the remaining state U s to get a pot of money

Gus Mitchem
Gus Mitchem

 So what is the point of the study or story comparing the university of Texas and a private school, seems slamming all university based on that is another poor excuse for a DO article

JimS
JimS

No. No. Remember I said this is the golden age of the scholarship kid, which I consider top be a wonderful thing. And only an idiot would suggest that you don't get one hell of an education at Harvard or Yale or William & Mary or Brown or any of those places. I expressed myself poorly. My intent was to say that those people who make enormous sacrifices to send a kid to one of these schools because they mistakenly think it will buy the kid into the elite are suckers. But I certainly did not intend to say that this is a description that fits all or even most or even a lot of the people who send kids there or go there themselves. That's the great thing about meritocracy: go to Princeton or go to a good state school: you still have to win your cases or cure your patients or publish your poems when you get out to prove yourself. UT Austin and the Ivies trade faculty back and forth all the time, because the academics know they're all great schools. Going to any of them to learn from any of those people is a great privilege and opportunity  -- another reason the on-line learning thing seems to bleak to me.

East Dallas Dad
East Dallas Dad

Private schools (from Pre-K to Higher Ed) have always used their pricing structures to eliminate or reduce the undesirables from attending. You aren't paying for quality, you're paying for exclusivity. In the name of diversity, some low-income and minority students will be admitted, but they will never be completely accepted by the old money families.

Ardy
Ardy

You don’t have to prove a negative. The problem is two-fold. First, the logic in your argument is flawed. And second, because the logic is flawed, you are not addressing OP's statement properly and therefore, he should not be prompted to explain himself further simply by virtue of your argument.  It would be like me saying “the sky is blue,” and you replying, “but the Cowboys have won five super bowls.” You would have done nothing to encourage me to explain why the sky is blue. I thought I demonstrated why your argument was logically flawed, but let me try an analogy (I’m not always good at these, so bear with me). Let’s say Wal-Mart and Kroger sell Cheetos and Cheetos are made from corn. Over the past 10 years, Kroger and Wal-Mart have both increased the retail price of Cheetos dramatically. I state that Wal-Mart has increased its prices due to a drawback of government subsidies of corn that for whatever reason, directly impact Wal-Mart. You argue that since Kroger is not a beneficiary of the same government subsidies and it also raised prices, then it must not be true that Wal-Mart raised prices due to the government subsidies. My point is – Wal-Mart may very well have raised prices due to the subsidies while at the same time Kroger raised prices for some other reason. 

Borborygmus
Borborygmus

Why does everyone affiliate "private" with "elite"? Remington College, Le Cordon Bleu, Arts Institute are all turning out college graduates with huge debts and $10 jobs at the end of the stint. They could have advanced their career as far by working in an actual kitchen during the same period. I will bet their student loan load is 80% of tuition and fees.

Chiggers!
Chiggers!

I know a few plumbers that are some of the sagest philosophers I've ever had the pleasure to meet. Dealing all day with other people's shit will really get you thinking about the realities of life.

Anon
Anon

Jim- you said the people going to these schools are not going for an education but to "buy their way into the aristocracy". which is throwing a jab at them. the only people who go to Harvard with any ideas of aristocracy in mind already have the funds to pay $55k per year for college (because once they get there they will spend $10k+ on the yearly fees for the Skull and Bones or similar clubs).

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