College Debt and Money

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What does your money really buy you?

After reading the Forbs.com posting titled: Oh, So That’s Why College is So Expensive by Steve Cohen, I began to understand why college tuition is rising so quickly. Cohen takes a unique perspective and argues that the increasing price of college tuition is due to increased amenities, but truly, it is to create an illusion and simply make the school look appealing to new students and their parents. Cohen uses sarcasm to both point out the benefits increased tuition brings, but also brings suggests these practices do little to improve the educational experience for students. Cohen compares the experiences he had during his years in college and uses it to point out the huge differences between school that used to cost $5,500 dollars a year and those that cost over $50,000 a year today.

He lists what a increased costs of college today actually buy you (the student). These benefits include “1) A really neat gym membership, 2) Incredible edibles”, 3) More majors, 4) Construction Cranes, 5) Wireless, 6) Washing machines that have a higher SAT score than you do, 7) Wanderlust, 8 ) Writing Resource Center, 9 ) Writing Resource Center, and finally, 10) Groupon Pricing.” Cohen takes each of these sections and outlines why these “costly benefits for students” really do not help teach or improve educational scores.

Examining modern college campuses reveals that much of what Cohen jokingly suggest is true. Colleges put large sums of money into improving the appearance of buildings, construct huge recreational centers and gyms, and they pay to have outlandish foods prepared (however it appears the “Incredible edibles” were skipped at Longwood in particular). Furthermore, Cohen suggests the colleges in an effort to increase the number of majors offered to make the school appear superior to competitors, colleges have created a system where many majors are essentially the same.

Additionally, modern upgrades to student dorms typically include cable TV, wireless internet, and fresh paint. In particular, the rooms in Frazer and Curry hall at Longwood have beer bottles in the ceiling older than me. Cohen’s point is the money is making going to make the school look better from the outside, but it does not always focus on keeping students happy on the inside. Parents want to feel that their money is buying something beneficial for his or her child, and with ongoing construction, pretty buildings, a huge gym, big sports team, and a huge list of potential majors many people lose sight of the true purpose of the school.

Additionally, the increased cost of college is increasing faster than the increases in faculty pay. This means the school is taking in more money and spending it on “school improvements, but it is not rewarding or hiring more teachers to improve the actual ones who teach the students. If tuition increases, I feel that good professors should be paid more, and more should be hired to keep classroom size down. Classroom size at Longwood, in my experience has been low, which I feel is a benefit to the educational process. However, many universities commonly have huge lecture halls with hundreds of students, and many more watching from online feeds. This creates a situation where students lose the ability to build a relationship with their teachers.

Cohen’s biggest point and strongest point for why colleges charge is his longest section: “10) Groupon Pricing.”. In this section he relates the cost a retail store college as a retail store. He suggests the increased cost of tuition is artificial mush like a retail store can inflate prices then offer huge “sales” to drum up business. Cohen accuses colleges of doing exactly thins, he says “Parents love to brag that, “My Sarah got a scholarship.” Colleges learned a long time ago that charging $50,000 and giving $10,000 in merit aid is a better formula that charging $40,000. Just ask Macy’s.” Recently there have been more schools offering merit benefits / aid. These discounts on tuition are applied for having a minimum level high school GPA , or a SAT score over a cretin point. These awards are not based on family income, and can be combined with other school aid. I suppose this may be true, and if so, I am curious how much Longwood engaged in these price inflations to increase the level of “discount” each student receives.

This article brought up an interesting perspective that has not been discussed until recently. The writing is completely one sided, and the author fails to address many of the counter arguments to this way of thinking, yet I am glad he wrote the article to help spur on the discussion of rising college prices. In my experiences at Longwood I have often felt my money could be better spent. Cohen’s closing words are, “Thinking ahead I wondered: Can we opt out of some of the fancy stuff and get a reduced tuition?” I think this is the key, if the cost of college continues to rise, can there be alternative to opt out of some amenities, should students have the power to decide where their money is going in the University?  I would like to see a system where every student can choose where a portion of their funding goes. If I want a new student center, then I can choose to put my funding towards that project, while others may prefer to put their money towards a new art building. I think this system would help individual students feel their money is going towards amenities they will use. Are colleges charging more to provide more for students’ benefits, or are students simply being marked to and these additions make their product more desirable?

posted by Kevin Kuhn in Uncategorized and having 3 Comments

3 comments

  1. Comment by kristin on October 16, 2012 at 10:07 am

    For someone who has done a few stints in college, I am often aggravated at the tuition I have to pay. I am only paying for courses as I do not live on campus. Obviously those course fees I pay go towards paying for numerous other services and amenities around the campus, many of which I never use or even know exist.
    You bring up an interesting point in allowing students to opt in or out of certain payments. This could probably be done to an extent, particularly for students living on campus. If a student does not need cable and high speed internet in their room they could, it would seem, choose not to have these services and save a bit of money. As far as a student or parents choosing whether their money should be spent on certain buildings, including major buildings that could be a bit dicey. In a liberal arts college, people sign on supposedly knowing that they will be required to take all sorts of classes from all sorts of majors. If people can opt out of paying for things revolving around majors other than their own, many programs could go dramatically underfunded.
    I just read an article by Richmond NBC 12’s Andy Jenks who pointed out that Virginia schools’ tuition “only” increased by 4.1 percent this year. I still consider that outrageous, but at least it is something. The decrease in the increase came in part from more taxes being put towards higher education. College tuition increases might be best attacked at this point. Voting for people who understand the importance of “affordable” education and who are willing to fight for it might then be the best course of action. Of course, getting people to run for this stance and getting people to vote for them is not easy.
    I also looked at an article in USA Today that discussed state coaches’ salaries. The head football coaches often make more than their college presidents. Way more. People argue that these coaches and athletic staff’s salaries are paid by media and television contracts and in about twenty percent of the cases they are. The rest of FBS college football programs according to the article need funding from other sources, such as taxes. I have a degree from a major FBS school and love my football, but I am uncomfortable with this system. Schools offering these big contracts to coaches justify it by saying that is what the market demands. It might be true that a college has to offer a coach a huge salary to keep the coach, but if said coach and his staff are not returning that money to the college through media and television contracts, it is hard to justify these huge contracts, in light of rising tuition costs and a volatile economy.
    Sources:
    Brady, Erik, et al., “Salaries for college football coaches back on the rise.” USA Today. 11/17/2011. Web. 10/16/12. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/story/2011-11-17/cover-college-football-coaches-salaries-rise/51242232/1.

    Jenks, Andy. “Virginia public college tuition increase smallest in a decade.” NBC News WWBT 12. 8/2012. Web. 10/16/2012. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/football/story/2011-11-17/cover-college-football-coaches-salaries-rise/51242232/1.

  2. Comment by Jonathan Hoyle on October 16, 2012 at 10:26 pm

    I completely agree with this sentiment. If we look at a lot of the technology and supplies we need as students, the prices are incredibly high priced, to the point where a lot of people can ill afford to buy them. I refer not just to the school itself with its Writing Resource Center and its “incredible edibles” (with the terms “incredible” and “edible” very loosely defined), but to the book store and the IT center as well. Text books are ridiculously overpriced and many students still have to pay for the IT center even though we don’t use the school Dell computers. While many of these ideas sound great in theory, few students actually use the Writing Resource Center and many students opt out of the Longwood Dell plan but are still required to pay for both. Considering how expensive college is already, many students are choosing not to join higher education institutions with the economy in its current state and instead joining the military or other low hanging jobs. While this helps the college and the workers in the short term, this is having a drastic impact on American society, with fewer of our students joining higher education institutions.

  3. Comment by Lindsey Booth on October 17, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I agree with you in the fact that schools have become a lot more expensive. After watching the presidential debate last night I observed that playing for college has become a growing concern. Students often go to schools where everything my look nice, but they do not understand the detrimental effects of paying off college post graduation. With the job market in decline even after school students are often forced to have low paying jobs and not even be able to pay off this large debt, but schools still must be competitive. Since technology is becoming more advanced many colleges have top-notch amenities and if schools do not keep up with this, they will see a decline in the number of students at the school. I believe that amenities do not make people happy, but schools must keep up with advancement to keep students interested in the school. I don’t think that this is the universities problem, I think that people have began putting more emphasis on “things” rather than getting a quality education.

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