2009 September 04 Friday
College Real Costs Vary By Department

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

Wolf-Dog said at September 5, 2009 8:23 AM:

Apparently the tuition fees of Cambridge University are significantly more affordable in comparison to private American schools:


In comparison, the UC Berkeley has reasonable tuition fees for California residents, but very high tuition fees for non-residents:


Yes, it is definitely a good idea to charge different tuition fees for different majors, but note that the salaries of professors is a significant portion of the school budget, and it turns out that the salary of a top science or engineering professor is often not much higher than the salary of a history professor.

John Cunningham said at September 5, 2009 1:19 PM:

I recall a great joke from my short time as a history professor long ago. Three deans where having drinks at a convention, and they were lamenting the high costs of operating natural science and engineering programs.
1st dean-- English departments are better, they only need the library.
2nd dean-- Math departments are even better, all they need are tablets, pencils, and erasers.
3rd dean-- but the philosophy department is best of all, no need for erasers.

Some wordy bastard said at September 5, 2009 5:25 PM:

These days all you need is a laptop for Computer Science ...

You can install Linux and download lots of packages and VMware and do lots of neat things ...

Of course, you need lots of smarts to understand that shit and avoid doing things like 'rm -rf /' and such like.

Engineer-Poet said at September 6, 2009 4:43 PM:

Yes, but when you do that it quits when it removes /bin/rm. ;-)

averros said at September 10, 2009 12:38 AM:

> Yes, but when you do that it quits when it removes /bin/rm. ;-)

It doesn't quit. Removing link to file from a directory does not immediately deletete a file being used by some program.

I've seen somebody doing rm -r / from under root - the guy was seriously mentally unbalanced and upset that his g/f dumped him. He killed his ex-g/f with axe and hanged himself next day. Beware of people doing rm -r /.

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