The Outrageous Cost Of College

I spent 40 years at the University of Hawaii: six at Manoa as a teaching assistant and instructor, 34 at West Oahu in the various professorial ranks.

Aside from the time spent in mind-numbing faculty meetings, I loved every minute of it. What wasn’t to love? The university paid me to read history and literature, to write about subjects I enjoyed, and to profess to students who at least feigned interest in what I had to say. Add flexible hours and an office to call my own, and … well, it was a great run.

That said, I admit one regret: the explosion in the cost of higher education during my academic lifetime.

When I entered college in the fall of 1961, my father a butcher by trade anted up $1,000, Kenyon College gave me $600, and my summer savings took care of the rest: tuition, room and board for less than $1,900 per year. That’s right: per year.

The student who entered Kenyon a half century later had to come up with $52,650 a year for tuition, room and board. Now we’re not talking Princeton here, or Harvard or Yale. Kenyon enjoys a fine reputation, including among its graduates, a president (Rutherford B. Hayes), an Academy Award-winning actor (Paul Newman), and a literary tradition that has produced too many awardwinning poets and novelists to mention. But it is, after all, a little college in rural Ohio.

Sadly, that’s what private higher education costs almost everywhere in 2011. And the numbers grow by leaps and bounds, pricing the sons and daughters of butchers right out of the private college market. Where do they turn? To public higher education, of course. In 1965, public colleges and universities awarded roughly half of all baccalaureate degrees. Today they hand out four-fifths of them.

But the costs of public education have spiraled as well. According to Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg in his The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the AllAdministrative University and Why It Matters, the price for attending an American university has more than tripled over the last three decades. The faculty-student ratio hasn’t changed much, but as the book’s title makes clear, Ginsberg sees the cause of tuition inflation in administrative numbers. They’ve grown 85 percent since 1975; administrative staff positions have jumped 240 percent.

University of Hawaii Vice President Linda Johnsrud has the unenviable task of holding hearings around the state this month on the university’s tuition proposal for 2012-2013 through 20162017. The proposal calls for what Johnsrud characterizes as “modest increases for resident undergraduates, especially in the first two years.”

“Modest,” of course, is in the eyes of the beholders: parents and students. Undergraduate resident tuition at Manoa will increase an average of 5.8 percent per year during the fiveyear life of the proposed schedule; an average of 6 percent per annum at the UH-Hilo, and 9 percent at West Oahu the first three years of the proposal, 7.2 percent and 7.4 percent in the last two. These increases vary between 2.5 percent and 5.5 percent above the July 2011 rate of inflation.

Why the modest or, depending on your perspective, “healthy” tuition increases? That’s easy. The other source of university funding for instruction, state appropriations, are drying up fast: down 23 percent since the global recession took hold in 2009.