The High Cost of the High Cost of Higher Education

Future discussion of President Obama’s proposal for free community college will be ugly whether you support the idea or not.  It’s how our political system seems to operate.  Personally, I will be watching as I don’t yet know enough to say whether or not I support any specific proposal although I do generally agree with the concept of bringing college costs down and trying to minimize student debt load. The high debt load our students are taking on is simply enslaving many of them.   

In a recent post about our Casper College visit to CDW in Chicago I listed as one of our reasons for pursuing a Chromebook 1:1 initiative as follows:

  • Reducing a students overall cost and/or student debt load is a moral responsibility for all in or related to higher education.    

Shortly after posting I stumbled on an article  in which New Jersey’s second-largest public university, Montclair University, is spending $210,000 for a 17-foot tall bronze statue depicting the school’s red-tailed hawk mascot to help improve school spirit.

Monclair State indicates that half the statues cost will be paid for by mandatory student fees. In response Monclair State University student Jo Landau said school spirit would improve if,

If tuition weren’t so high, if there were parking spots for everyone, if everyone actually knew who their academic adviser was, and if the administration actually listened to students like they say they will.

When I read stories such as this I realize we have failed our students completely on this issue of keeping student costs down.  

A 2013 GAO report tells us that more must be done to curb the rising cost of textbooks.   Findings in that report include:

  • Efforts by publishers to disclose cost information to faculty have not impacted prices.  
  • New textbook prices rose 82% between 2002 and 2012
  • Textbook costs are rising an average of 6% per year and approximately three times the rate of inflation.

The College Board says the average four-year college student spends $1,200 a on books and supplies and that introductory texts often costs

The following chart is just scary:

Higher Education Inflation

Source: US Department of Labor Statistics as reported in “The Economist, Sept, 201o http://www.economist.com/node/16960438

In our proposed Chromebook Initiatives we hope to reduce the overall student cost of enrolling in some of our programs by replacing several hundreds of dollars of cost from textbooks to a couple hundred dollar Chromebook.  The instructors will provide content online they have developed and not require any texts for specific programs.  (NOTE: Before you tell me how much work this is going to be please note that for the programs we will pilot the electronic content is already built)   

With that background I think is very important to carefully consider each and every resource we are adding to a students list of required resources for their education.  

We ALWAYS say …well if a resource is required then the student can make it part of their financial aid package. We almost flippant when we say this but in reality we are just deferring costs via their financial aid package which will directly impact their quality of life when and if they graduate.  You might say…

It’s just one Chromebook  

This issue to me is that we are continually adding to the cumulative student cost because we use this line every single time for every single cost that comes along.  I think it is high time for us to more seriously consider a student’s ability to repay and how the debt burdens impact on their future quality of life.  I was one who was always told …. get your education …  borrow the money if you have to.
Sounds easy enough, however, since we have a system in which student loan debt is very difficult to discharged in bankruptcy I think we need to be really really careful about dishing out this advice.  Karl Denninger says about our system,

Student loan debt holds a privileged position above all other kinds of debt.     It was both Republican and Democratic Congresses and Presidents that went along with it.  

The basic laws of supply and demand responded to the fact that student loans became “fog a mirror” loans, just as did these loans in the housing bubble. Since there was no risk you could avoid the debt in bankruptcy there was no reason for a lender to care if your chosen path for both debt and vocation had any reasonable congruence with the ability to pay. With this influx of “students” that were preyed upon in this fashion, demand outstripped supply and price went to the moon, exactly as basic economics tell you that it will. The Universities actively engaged in these acts, as did the lenders and government. They screwed this individual and all others in this situation on purpose by taking steps they knew would radically inflate the cost of college and screwed with the law so students would get hosed when (not if) those loans went bad while they would be protected from making those intentionally-bad loans.

If you get a high paying degree and job you can pay it back.  If you get a low paying degree and job you may not be able to pay it back.  However,  all degrees regardless of ability to pay have access to generally the same monies for education.

Denniger adds…

“It is criminal to enforce the payment for the bad borrowing  decision only upon the student, and yet protect the utter stupidity of the lender and university involved who both acted with superior information and thus must stand accused of making the loan in an intentionally-predatory fashion with absolutely no care in the world as to whether it could be paid or not.

You might say,  I thought this was about Chromebooks?   It is not just the Chromebook but rather about what is described by some as a higher education arms race.  It is about reflecting on how every single decision higher education practitioners make for students is part of a cumulative effect which could impact that student for decades.   It is the cumulitive  effect of the Chromebook requirement, requiring various resources, building buildings, adding statues which might improve school spirit  and in general thinking we must not only provide everything a student  needs but also what they want.  Gordon Winston, states,

An arms race has no finish line that indicates success. It is a continuing process that can be ended only by ending the process itself.

This  does create this predatory lending mentality and if those of us in the best position to advise students and dictate the direction of our institutions don’t take this seriously who will.    I  think I agree with Denniger.

 

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