by James A. Bacon
Economist James V. Koch knows a thing or two about higher education. He spent 15 years as president of two public universities, including Old Dominion University, where he still serves as president emeritus. So, when he thinks that higher education leadership has lost its way, we should pay attention.
In an op-ed in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, Koch starts with numbers that readers of Bacon’s Rebellion will find familiar: Between 2001 and 2015, in-state tuition and fees have increased 305% at the College of William & Mary, 248% at Virginia Commonwealth University, 241% at the University of Virginia, and lesser but still hefty percentages at other state universities. That compares to growth in Virginians’ median household income of 6.8%. (ODU hiked its fees a relatively modest 143%.)
Koch acknowledges that the decline in state support for higher education — from $8,310 per student to $4,771 over the same period — was partly to blame. But only partly. Data for 79 flagship public universities indicate that higher ed institutions are spending smaller percentages on instruction, and more on institutional support, academic support and research.
“One can argue that many of our public colleges have been sucked into cost-inflating behaviors that almost inevitably end up requiring tuition and fee increases,” he says. Do “spiffy residence halls and climbing walls” really help prepare students for the world after education? “Virginians ought to be more interested in seeing evidence that students emerge from our public colleges as critical thinkers who have acquired the tools and appreciations that will enable them to compete for jobs.”
Legislators and boards of visitors, Koch says, need to ask more pointed questions about the “cost-inflating behaviors, rankings competitions, and mission creep activities” that are pricing many Virginians out of higher education.
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