Panoddaily has a neat interactive explainer discussing why higher education costs so much, who benefits and whether there are any positive changes on the horizon. It delves into the history of college, why expenses have risen (including the role of college sports) and goes on to explore the extraordinary debt that many students are taking on so they can attend college. And, so it’s not all doom and gloom, the piece takes a look at “startup saviors,” like MOOCs, to try and ascertain whether these innovations really can upset the trajectory of higher education.

Instinctively, everyone knows that colleges spend a lot of money on athletics. A recent study from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) gets at just how out-of-whack spending on athletics and academics really is. The study found that in 2010, the 120 principal football schools (known as the Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS colleges) spent $92,000 per athlete and only $14,000 per non-athlete.

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  • Guest

    well, regarding their first chart, I think they’ve mislabeled the categories. Inflation should equal 100 percent. Everything is measured against inflation which is the baseline, so that should be the 100 percent column. But they’ve got the 100 percent column labeled “healthcare costs” and a 180 percent column labeled “inflation.” After that I stopped reading, because that seemed like a pretty major error right there, unless I’m missing something.

  • Brett Coryell

    If I were giving grades, Pandodaily gets a ‘C’. There is some interesting information there for people who aren’t inside higher education and I’m sure it’s a wake up call for some who don’t realize the rate of growth in tuition. The author makes several mistakes and fails to mention important large causes of increased cost and important large groups of beneficiaries.

    Here are just a few examples, as briefly as I can type them. Growth in administrators is large in percentage terms but not so large in absolute numbers. Growth in overall non-teaching staff is large not due to the desire to expand administrative realms of power but due to increasing regulation (HIPAA being the worst of them all). A $1M presidential home loan or the Penn State severance package is a good headline but not a noticeable cause of increased tuition for students. In many schools (I don’t have national stats but can speak to at least a dozen institutions), student tuition makes up only about 25% of the institutional budget so students aren’t saddled with all costs. And finally, students don’t pay all of their tuition because financial aid covers large portions, especially for the most needy students. At four year public institutions, the NET cost of tuition paid by students in the six year period between the 2007-08 school year and the 2012-13 school year went up $440, or just over $73/year (source: College Board).

    And to beneficiaries, we should never forget the role that public and private universities play in advancing all corners of society through research. The Internet began in universities as government sponsored research. Agricultural production continues to benefit in the US and around the world from advances made in universities. Life saving medicines, surgical techniques, and healthcare practices are created in academic medical centers that do research while healing patients and teaching med students. And while some of these researchers are paid through federal grants, part of their salaries are covered by student tuition, some by alumni giving, and some through state budgets in the case of public colleges and universities. As more researchers join the ranks of higher education — and this has undeniably been the trend for decades — society benefits AND more support staff are needed to procure their equipment, build their laboratories, deliver their mail, report to the government on the use of grant dollars and the location of hazardous materials, and both literally and figuratively keep the lights on.

    All of these topics are more a part of the increasing cost than the increased cost of paying football coaches and more a part of who benefits from increased college costs than anything Pandodaily had to say on the matter. They wrote lots of text but showed little understanding.

  • The Hamilton Project from Brookings has done a lot of research on the return on college investment. Main takeaways:
    1. A college graduate is almost 20 percentage points more likely to be employed than someone with only a high school diploma.
    2. Compared to other investments (housing, stocks, bonds) college pays off the most in future returns thanks to a large earnings advantage (on average a 20% return).
    3. The price of college is rising. But the price of not going to college is rising even faster.
    Good food for thought.


Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She's a staff writer for KQED's education blog MindShift.

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