May 31, 2012

BLUMER: OSU President Tells NYT He ‘Didn’t Think a Lot About Costs’

Filed under: Economy,Education,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:39 pm

Of course he didn’t.

By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog

In its coverage on May 12 of the student loan debt explosion and its impact on students and their families, the New York Times quoted Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee making quite an astonishing admission: “I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.”

Therein lies the fundamental problem. For decades, universities haven’t had to “think a lot” about controlling costs. They have simply passed tuition and other increases on to students and their families, who have in turn been willing to borrow more and more from Uncle Sam to get the precious sheepskin.

As a former student there, yours truly remembers that in the mid-1970s, tuition for a year at Miami University in Oxford was $630. The then-controversial “general fee” was another $150. Even after adjusting for general inflation, those costs amounted to less than $4,000 in today’s dollars. Tuition and mandatory fees this year at the home of the Redhawks was $12,625. At the main campus in Columbus at Mr. Gee’s OSU, where costs were about the same as at Miami in the mid-1970s, tuition and fees were “only” $9,711. Does anyone believe that today’s universities are delivering two or three times more value in real terms now than the were in the mid-1970s?

On Sunday At the Power Line blog, Steven Heyward lit into Mr. Gee and by inference many of his highly paid colleagues: “Easy for Mr. Gee-Whiz to say, with his $2 million pay package at Ohio State.”

A bigger-picture question for Ohioans and university presidents such as Mr. Gee is why in-state tuition at state-supported schools is so much higher than in other states. Here are a few examples found in a study based on the 2010-2011 academic year by the Midwest Higher Education Compact: University of Florida, Gainesville – $5,045; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill – $5,922; Iowa State University, Ames – $6,997. The MHEC shows that schools in the Midwest are more expensive than the national average. But costs at Ohio’s universities are even higher than that.

It seems doubtful that disparate levels in state government aid would explain much of the regional ro national differences just cited. I’m afraid that the attitude OSU’s Gee relayed to the Times betrays something more fundamental. In Ohio, schools increase their costs simply because they can — and because legislators, parents, and students who believe the increasingly questionable claim that a college degree will lead to a relative bonanza in lifetime earnings let them.

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