Yes, You Can Get an Affordable Education

November 21st, 2011 at 12:00 pm | 26 Comments |

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Noah Kristula-Green and David Frum have written articles in the past week about the high cost of college tuition and its linkage to student loan debt. Noah aptly points out that one way affluent parents can pass along wealth to their children is by paying for college so their children won’t have a debt burden upon graduation and David mentions the fact that most private colleges have similar tuition rates, regardless of their academic rank, so there’s no real price competition.

I’ve written about the issue of tuition and student loan debt here at FrumForum. My prior article provides a public policy suggestion on this issue (making student loan debt dischargeable in bankruptcy) and this piece by Mike Konczal at Rortybomb is worth reading for a summary of how bankruptcy rules have changed over the past decades on this issue. Simply returning to the system we had in 1989 (read the Konczal article to see what that means) would go a long way to alleviate burdens on current debtors and put some market discipline on both lenders and debtors going forward.

But such suggestions don’t help parents or students seeking assistance now. It takes a long time for public policy to change and the same is true for general economic trends. One of the reasons why students go into a lot of student loan debt is because they want to go to private colleges rather than state schools, because they don’t want to go to a school where they are just a number.

This isn’t an unreasonable concern, because many students at public universities find themselves lost in classes of hundreds of people, if they even are able to register for the classes they need. Many students go to private colleges that cost as much as Ivy League or Ivy League-caliber schools but lack the cachet or job placement of such schools, simply because they want a more personalized education. This is particularly true for academically serious students and the irony is that such students end up penalized for their intellectual curiosity because they want a college experience that involves reading, writing and discussion rather than filling out Scantron forms.

There is an alternative for such students and their parents, however. In recent decades, public universities all over America have founded honors colleges on their campuses. Such colleges are more than just honors classes for juniors and seniors who make good grades. They are liberal arts college environments set up in big state universities that allow students (particularly in-state students) to receive a private college education for the price of a big state school education.

Typically, students in such programs have separate honors housing, small classes, faculty mentors and unique research opportunities. Honors colleges create an atmosphere in which participants are part of a small community of academically-inclined students who are encouraged and given tools to succeed. One can find such programs all over the country and one’s home state. The Macaulay Honors College at CUNY is a fine example of this sort of program, as is the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State and the Honors College at the University of Oklahoma.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to get a liberal arts education, including in fields like anthropology or the classics, regardless of what people like Florida Governor Rick Scott or Rush Limbaugh say. The problem is, unless one goes to a major-name private college (where one’s major is less important than the name on the degree), has wealthy parents who can pay full price or gets a full-ride scholarship, this can lead to a difficult debt burden upon graduation.

Honors colleges are a tool against such student loan debt indenture. Many prospective students and their families are unaware of this option and more should know about it and take advantage of it.

Recent Posts by Mark R. Yzaguirre

26 Comments so far ↓

  • Fart Carbuncle

    Again, if it weren’t for the elitist professors and administrative staff who wormed themselves grotesquely high salaries and super-luxury perks, university costs would be in line with the normal standard of living.

    The ideal of a college education, that of giving opportunity to the many, becomes less financially feasible as institutions spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their presidents, top administrators, professors, and coaches.

    This is an example in New Jersey:

    • Demosthenes

      Spoken like a man who truly has no idea what a university is or how a modern university functions. Well done. Perhaps next time you can regale us with the harrowing tale of How Fart Got His G.E.D and Why This Qualifies Fart to Pontificate On the American University System.

      P.S. A Ph.D. is supposed to make you elite, although among anti-intellectual riffraff such as yourself higher education can certainly be a liability…

      • Fart Carbuncle

        You are truly funny, sir, but did you read the article? I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

        I think that governors should go Reagan on their butts and replace the elitists with adjunct professors that would cost about half of what the kids trying to get an education are being gouged with.

        • Demosthenes

          The article did not say anything about professors’ salaries, which have been stagnant for more than a decade. But your problem with university professors is not how much they are paid, first of all because they are not paid all that well, and second because the amount that they are paid has not increased commensurately with the cost of tuition. Your real problem with university professors is that they are intellectual elites while you can’t even fathom the depths of your own ignorance.

      • Bingham

        You can get a decent education as long as you don’t run across faculty who are white-trash Trotsktists, which is much more common at the state level. But then, I guess it’s all a matter of taste.

    • Rob_654

      Can you give us some idea what you consider “grotesquely high salaries and super-luxury perks”?

      Just curious because most people I know with a PhD in the Private Sector make well into the six figures and are rarely go for any length of time without unsolicited jobs offers being made to them and some folks I know who teach at the University level could easily go out and make more money in the Private Sector – but they love teaching (I don’t understand it since I prefer money but to each their own).

      I am not going to defend all professors as being great – but if you fire them all and replace them, how do you want to do that?

      First – how do you tell Harvard (a private University) to fire their professors? Or is it just State Universities that will fire their professors – and then who do you hire to replace them?

      Do you think that PhD’s are just waiting around saying “Boy, I sure hope I can find a job?” or do you anticipate just hiring anyone who happens to have some qualification that you deem “good enough”?

      • Fart Carbuncle

        This is from

        According to Bloomberg Business Week, the average salary for public university presidents in the 2007-2008 academic year was $427,400. Retirement pay, year-end bonuses and other perks add substantially to this figure. The salaries for presidents of private universities was approximately 25 percent higher. These numbers rose continuously in the years leading up to 2008, and have continued to rise since that time. The New York Times reports that median pay for public university presidents reached $436,000 in 2009.

        Highest paid:
        E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University, received a pay package worth a total of $1,346,225 in the 2007-2008 year. This number includes salary, deferred compensation, retirement pay, performance bonus, use of a house and car and membership dues in various clubs and organizations.

        The Effect of High Pay:
        Although the high pay of university presidents and administrators is not the only factor leading to increasing tuition fees, it certainly contributes to this problem. Along with the increasing costs of real estate, insurance, utilities and other necessities of a university campus, the increasing demands of administrators contribute to a tuition burden that leaves many students tens of thousands of dollars in debt by the time they graduate.

        Comparison with Professors
        The salaries of professors vary widely, depending on what department they teach in. Salaries increase as teachers advance from teaching assistant to adjunct professor to associate professor, assistant professor and full professor. The most highly paid professors don’t get nearly as much as the average university president, with professors’ salaries topping at around $175,000 during the same 2007 to 2009 time frame.

        *I cut and pasted relevant paragraphs to make my point. Granted, Frump doesn’t claim to be a president but I’m guessing his salary is at the $180-200K range from 2009.

        This much money and the requisite perks for sitting on his ass most of the week for part-time work is just horse crap. It’s like the public safety union scams (police/fire), gouging the public till because “you need us”.

        Nope. Not gonna buy it. Not when we have good people unemployed.

        Read more: The Average Salary of a University President |

        • Demosthenes

          You are an idiot who is demonstrably incapable of reading your own links.

          From your paragraph above:

          “The most highly paid professors don’t get nearly as much as the average university president, with professors’ salaries topping at around $175,000 during the same 2007 to 2009 time frame.”

          First of all, that is almost guaranteed to be the salary for a professor of business administration, law, or some related field. Second, if the MAXIMUM is $175,000, how do you expect Frumple to have netted (as your MINIMUM estimate) $180k?

          Math fail. Reading comprehension fail. Is there any question where your hostility to intellectual elites is coming from?

        • willard landreth

          Poor farty,

          Its really too bad that the “private” sector has to pay so much first to hire and then to fire their incompetent CEO’s. Farty doesn’t understand that those high costs come out of the pockets of those who buy the product – as in the case of HP whether good or not.
          Frankly, the comparison to union leader and/or college presidents is apples to oranges and I’ve read the cost comparisons and they’re not even close.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    hey, great article for a change. I went to a Public university as did my wife. Every member of my family did as well, except for one brother. It was said before in other threads but, for the most part, wealthy people only want to buy the prestige that comes with the private school and not the education, and with the prestige you can buy the connections. I suppose if you have a burning desire to be very rich this is a way to go. Most people don’t have a burning desire to be rich though, comfortable is comfortable enough and you can get a comfortable lifestyle by acquiring a public university education.
    And you have the non-traditional route, like go to University in China and learn the language and make guanxi there. I must admit though the best time to have done that was in the 80′s and 90′s when white Americans were exotic. That was a golden time to be an American there. Still can be if you can become fluent in Mandarin (and learn Wu as well) However if you focus on the interior of China you can probably still make great contacts. I guarantee you being a white American fluent in Mandarin will open up far more doors in China than the most prestigious degree from any American University.

    • Fart Carbuncle

      When I read this elitist drivel it helps me understand the Khmer Rouge a little bit better…

      • Frumplestiltskin

        you are a poor parasite consumed by envy and resentment. Get a job.

      • ConnerMcMaub

        Can you make a point without it being ad hominem? You complain when people do it to you.

  • indy

    If you want an education, you can get one for $5 in overdue fines at the library.

    If you want the proof of it (or proof of something, I’m not quite sure what) for an employer, well that’s a good bit more expensive.

    • Demosthenes

      True story. In the vast majority of cases an undergraduate degree is an extremely expensive credential. We would do better to have a robust system of technical/professional/vocational schools.

      • willard landreth

        We appear to be quickly moving in that direction. However, there are plenty of horror stories about career-college students who never graduate, or those who leave with large student-loan bills and then fail to get jobs. Students from proprietary institutions borrow more than students in other sectors of higher education, and have the largest student-loan default rates.

        A college degree in this day and age should be reserved for scholarly degrees – ie research or liberal arts IMHO.

        I once interviewed for a position at a prestigeous southern university. During the interview the interviewer went to great length to inform me that “Here at ______ we educate not train. The inference being that the institution where I currently taught did the latter.

      • willard landreth

        A knowledgeable individual told me that a college degree should cost about as much as you might earn once you’ve graduated. It was true for him 60yrs ago. It was true 40 yrs for myself, and the same for my children. As I look around the nation at costs it still appears to remain true. Naturally, private and Ivy League schools are extremely expensive, but generally not State schools.

        A difference I do see is that children who attend college today expect to have what their parents have acquired over many years – immediately. Great car, great house etc etc. In ways I believe the students have greater expectations from their paycheck than can be possibly achieved within their limited experience.

    • Pavonis

      Sadly, most humans lack the discipline to self-study and need to be motivated by grades/teachers/deadlines which create a competitive impetus. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to goof off (esp. with the internet) rather than study difficult subjects.

      • indy

        I did use the word want. Universities went from a place for the education of people who wanted to be educated (and could do so cheaply) to a place of people who mostly just want to get through it so they can get a piece of paper for an absurd amount of money in order to get a mediocre job. I don’t really blame them. The alternative is generally worse but it is a sad state of affairs.

  • Reagan Wasn't a God

    I fear this whole conversation has become a slew of personal attacks without real content. I move that we use this comment space productively, to interact civilly and more deeply understand the topic being discussed.

    Fart Carbuncle, if I may, it seems that the flaw in your argument is, as rob_654 alluded to, this seems to be a case of the free market vs a regulated one. As of now, the market for professor pay is (from my understanding) pretty much unregulated. Fat carbuncle, I assume that you prefer a sort of regulatory body to keep professor pay low.

    Now my opinion: I might be able to see an argument for this sort of regulation in a public university, but certainly not a private university. Though private universities receive federal funding, this (for the purposes of analogy) seems closer to the subsidies that some corporations receive (like oil and utilities). In a public university, I wonder what might be the purpose (or effect for that matter) of salary controls. Presidents, who seem to make, on average, six figure salaries run what are akin to huge multimillion dollar corporations. Their job is to bring in money (through donations, grants etc.) to the board. If they are earning less for the college than they cost, they will be fired by the board of managers. As for professors, their job is less easily measured in numerical terms. Of course, discoveries and patents bring in money for the college, but the real purpose of a good professor is prestige. Their prestige brings in money and better students. Again, if they cost more than they make (and aren’t tenured) they will not remain at an institution for long.

    The problem, to me, with placing salary caps on workers at public universities is that, although it may quell some populist rage, I can’t see how it would end well. We would end up with far worse state university, for many middle class families, too wealthy for aid but not wealthy enough to fork up 200k, the last vestige of affordable education. In essence, students who want a good education would be forced to pony up for the private institutions (which are allowed to pay the market price for professors and other faculty), thus worsening the problem you hope to end.

    I would be more than happy to hear a logical, adult argument against the opinion I currently hold.

    As for why a college education is important, when speaking to someone who recruits from schools for a consultancy firm (an occupation that portends toward a degree in the humanities), he said that college helps kids learn to learn. No one come to his firm knowing how to deal with going into a company and deciding who to fire or what to cut, but college teaches people how to look at information. It sounds cliche, but he says that people he has hired from ivies and “little ivies” as well as the very prestigious state and non-ivie private schools are, on average, much more adept at this sort of learning to learn than those from “average” state and private schools. Whether this is a reflection of the type of student who naturally ends up at a prestigious school or the environment is beyond me (far be it from me to say that a great education cannot be had at a “average” state school).

    Beyond that, many truly smart students (those that could get into Harvard or a similar school) from middle class families may actually end up receiving aid. As I mentioned in another post, I’ve spoken with someone (I understand this is very anecdotal) who has a family income of about 100k and gets aid of about 35k per year- now his tuition is hardly that much worse than state schools.

  • buddyglass

    It’s worth noting that the most elite of the elite private universities have a steeply progressive need-based aid system. Per Harvard’s website, students whose parents earn $65k or less are not expected to contribute *anything* to the cost of their Harvard education.

    It’s also worth noting that many large recognizable state schools offer free rides (including room & board) to anyone who qualifies as a national merit scholar. LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Arizona and Alabama, to name a few. Harvard they ain’t, but A&M and Arizona are both AAU members, which counts for something. Now admittedly getting national merit isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, but then again the PSAT is pretty “game-able” for the student willing to devote himself to it.

    Another option is to knock out a bunch of intro classes at a junior college, or test out of them via AP exams, then transfer the credits to the four-year university you want to graduate from. For a liberal arts degree at my alma mater, only 60 hours (approximately 2 years) need to be completed “in residence” (i.e. at the university).

  • willard landreth

    As a college professor, in a state college system, my pay NEVER exceeded 32K a year. Yes there was a pension system and health benefits. I obtained a Doctorate and had years of public school teaching experience before I taught at the collegiate level. Moving to the college level actually diminished my earning power.

    I believe that many have bought into the idea that college professors are lazy and overpaid. I also believe that teachers in general are put into that category. Carly Fiorina failed big time at HP and was given a handsome separation package. Doesn’t happen in the real world of education.

    • Reagan Wasn't a God

      Landreth, as long as this is relatively anonymous, I hope I’m not being impudent by asking what sector you work in now, and how your pay compare? Or are you still a professor (it is a left a little enigmatic)?

      • willard landreth

        I retired 15 yrs ago. So I can’t help at all. I was always a teacher 1st in public ed and then collegiate. Now I supplement my SS with private teaching and tutoring. I can add this however; I was fortunate to marry a medical professional. Her income always exceeded mine. For that I am eternally grateful, for I was able to pursue my love of the arts while living “comfortably”. We ain’t rich but we sure are happy. She retired about 5 yrs after me.

  • ratgov

    I actually think the whole point of the article is flawed. My understanding is that with the reduction in public funding of state universities, that even in state tuition is becoming cripplingly high. Even when I was going to college 20 years ago, people were getting wise to the ridiculous cost of private colleges. I really don’t think the private college cost is the issue, it’s the large rise in the cost of public universities from the lack of public funding.