Friday, October 14, 2011

N.C. Big Media Laments Dropout Rate at Big Education

Bring out the Kleenex. Pass the hanky. It’s time for another sob story from the editors at the Charlotte Observer, News & Observer, and what other observers that infest North Carolina. This time the victims of the big bad republican state legislators are college students. Apparently, the cuts in grants have caused some students to dropout:

This is a sad situation indeed, because the state's public university system long has been regarded as a jewel in the crown, its very existence a sacred promise that if you are a suitably qualified young person in North Carolina and you want to go to college, you can go.

The problem is, economic reality and a Republican-run legislature inexperienced in governing and apparently uninterested in the consequences of slashing budgets willy-nilly have combined to put, in this case, college students or potential students in a choking bind. Some will simply not be able to further their education.

Republicans passed up the continuation of a temporary sales tax that would have brought in more than $1 billion annually, money that could have helped college students and educators in the public schools and lots of other North Carolinians who are doing important things that benefit the state.

Our universities are the crown jewel of North Carolina? Maybe for out of work democratic politicians; and if you like your kids to be self-loathing Americans, then I can definitely say the university system is a top notch.

But as usual Big Media doesn’t question Big Education. The writer of this dribble never thought to ask why the cost of a college education is so expensive. No, this idiot rambles about a 1% sales tax, instead of tackling the real reasons why tuition has exceeded the rate of inflation:

According to figures obtained from the U.S. Department of Education, the Census Bureau and the College Board, tuition increased from the 2005-06 school year to the 2010-11 school year by 24 percent for a four-year public college, 17 percent for four-year private college and 11 percent for a two-year public college.

The rise in the cost of a college education significantly has outpaced inflation.

One of the reasons for the sharp rise of tuition is that universities have become labor intensive. The best example I found was from the Mises Institute. It’s a bit dated, written in 1998, but highly instructive:

Universities are labor-intensive places, and they have become more so. The number of faculty members has risen slightly faster than enrollments, and there has been an explosion in nonteaching staff. In the fall of 1976, universities nationwide had 31.5 administrators for every 1,000 students. By 1993 that number had grown to 51.4. By the mid-1990s, only about 35% of university employees actually taught students.

Assuming the quality of education and research has remained constant over time, there has been a significant decline in labor productivity in higher education--more people now do the same amount of work. Actually, they may do less work. At a typical state university, faculty members teach 250 hours or so a year; their counterparts in 1960 spent far more time in the classroom. Most of us today teach the same way Socrates did more than 2,300 years ago, albeit not as well. What other profession has had absolutely no productivity advance in 2,300 years?

A typical teacher at a medium-quality state university may spend 650 hours a year directly on the teaching function (including preparation, grading papers and advising), for perhaps $65,000 in salary and benefits, or about $100 an hour. Universities can afford such expensive labor in large part because of government subsidies. Students who are sensitive to price get scholarships, really a form of price discrimination. Meanwhile, costs soar for those paying full price.

While other industries have found ways to become more productive, the university system has become fat and lazy, which is easy to do when a huge portion of monies received comes from federal and state governments.


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