A New York Times article about rising costs of higher education observes that some majors cost a lot more and English is one of the cheaper majors.
“Fine arts has studio-based production, so capital and facility costs are high,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the nonprofit group Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability, speaking of colleges in general. “Piano tutoring is pretty much one to one in a room with a piano. Pianos are expensive. Agriculture is expensive because of the lab costs, which means a barn.”
An English student, however, is generally a profit center. “They’re paying for the chemistry major and the music major and faculty research,” she said. “They don’t want to talk about it in institutions, because the English department gets mad. The little ugly facts about cross-subsidies are inflammatory, so they get papered over.”
Makes sense. There's a huge surplus of Ph.D.s in English and no need for labs or special equipment to teach the subject. I'd like to know the relative cost of offering the various science, engineering, and business-oriented majors. Is a chemistry or physics department more expensive? Is engineering more expensive than science? Is math cheaper than the hard sciences? Why don't colleges charge different prices for different majors and classes?
Like so many other institutions Lafayette College in Easton PA spends more on non-faculty than on faculty. Why so much parasitism?
Lafayette, like many colleges, spends more on nonfaculty salaries than it does on pay for the teachers. How did that happen? Mr. Weiss uses the evolution of career counseling as an example. He does not recall whether there was a placement office when he was an undergraduate at George Washington University in the 1970s. “Now there is the expectation, and I don’t think it’s misplaced, that students can get help in entering the workplace,” he said. If Lafayette did not create a rigorous support system, he noted, its graduates would be competing with students from other colleges and universities that had done so. “And therefore, we’ve invested very significantly in new administrative staff.”
Kids entering the workplace would benefit more from career-relevant skills than from counseling.
What is it about American society that there has been such a huge proliferation of advisors, counselors, administrators, and specialists to do jobs that could just not get done at all with little loss in the overall productivity of an organization? We see this in government agencies of many kinds. We see this in colleges and universities. I do not think we have much to show for all these added layers, meetings, and committees.
Universities and colleges aren't going to reform themselves without outside incentives and pressures to reform. Only competing ways of delivering educational services (e.g. on the internet with prerecorded lectures and automated tests) will provide the competition needed to create price pressure. As things stand now prices are set by willingness of parents to pay ridiculous amounts to get their kids thru college.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2009 September 04 09:22 PM Education|