Another Shot across Higher Ed’s Bow

tuitionby 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.


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


17 responses to “Another Shot across Higher Ed’s Bow”

  1. If UVA is engaged in a ratings competition then it is certainly failing in that regard. It’s overall ratings have fallen steadily from about #15 in the mid 1980s to #26 (or so) today.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      UVA is down from around #10 in the 1960s.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    so when are these “elected” yahoos writing “letters” about not paying a penny more for METRO – going to do similar letters for higher ed?


    I swear – higher ed is the NEW – UNION!

    oh and have we talked about student growth profiles and getting rid of “bad” College teachers?

  3. CrazyJD Avatar

    What’s your point, Larry?

    I agree that higher ed is the new union to the extent that tenure dominates. There are very few checks and balances, and government insists on doling out more and more money to students through Pell Grants and the like, further ratcheting up the amount that higher ed can charge.

    1. Within 12 months of armed forces COLA of 10%, real estate prices in Hampton Roads also rose 10%. Same phenomenon. I predict the HE bubble will burst first, followed by the health care system bubble.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    my point? that we jump up and down about transit and K-12 and threaten to not fund it – but no such rhetoric with higher ed… it’s like serious whining and that’s about it.

    where are those elected officials getting up and refusing to give another penny to Higher Ed until they stop ripping off the public?

    double standard, Crazy.. if we had one ounce of the “outrgage” of the right on other issues for higher ed – we’d be cooking with gas!

    1. CrazyJD Avatar

      As a matter of fact, Larry, we do object. And there’s plenty written on it. In your NPR world, you just don’t hear about it. No double standard at all.

      Gotta go. Will check the board later.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Crazy – can you direct me to the “plenty” – thanks.

  5. This was a pretty strong reaction from the Chief of Pursestrings in House but then pushback by Norment in Senate. When legislators have taken a stance against passing requested funding for state HE, they’re ripped for having their values in the wrong place. I think the call needs to come from GA to the various Boards: do better homework, send your administrators back to the drawing board, demand fiscal responsibility. By design, the system has 3 distinct bodies involved in spending tax money on higher ed. While it’s easy to point to amenities as too rich, it’s more likely that overspending occurs in places where it’s invisible, like in poorly negotiated contracts or underinformed oversight. Families don’t usually go broke by buying a fancy car every decade; it’s usually the weekly/monthly overspending that does in a household.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      wait – these guys have no trouble what-so-ever – shutting down MedicAid and the CPP… and METRO… even public schools replaced with Charters.. right?

      but then we get all tongue-tied on higher-ed… excuses…

      what do they do? well they write OpEds “criticizing” but not one of them promises to vote against further funding until they stop ripping folks.

      you know they say they can’t do MedicAid cuz it will “cost” them but then look at Higher Ed … no such problem, eh?

      1. The higher cost of HE has not burdened the states; it has burdened students and their families. Passing enhance Medicaid and Medicare will require state funds.

  6. It is the same as the housing bubble etc. Back in the late 1990s legislators discovered that student loans were easy to secure and so anytime the budget was tight the reduced spending in public higher education. Institution then raised the cost and students were assisted in getting federally backed student loans.
    But then institutions insisted on more freedom to manage their budgets and the politicals agreed and oversight of spending was dropped dramatically. That followed with a surge of excessive spending including more and more on recreation facilities, athletic facilities and programs and on administrative salaries. Presidents, athletic directors and coaches’ salaries have exploded by 300-400% percent in the past ten to fifteen years.
    Faculty has been quiet as their salaries have jumped (not as much as others) and their teaching loads have dropped. The teaching has been made up by employing adjunct faculty who typically teach a course for about one tenth of what it would cost for a full time tenured faculty member to teach the same course. 75% of all courses in American higher education are now taught by part-time adjunct faculty with no benefits.
    In the meantime student debt has increased by several hundred percent in the past decade or so to more than $1.4 trillion of federally insured loans… Total student debt may exceed $2 trillion.
    In the process admission standards have dropped as well as academic rigor and as many as 50% of those receiving degrees have not been able to secure a full time career oriented job.
    American higher education like the federal government, retirement funds, housing industry and most of America have been wildly using the credit cards with no limits. And someone will have to pay the piper soon. And who in leadership positions are willing to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the issue. (And don’t blame Social security.)

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      This is a beautifully stated commentary on the current state of higher education in America by someone who has been there and done that, hence speaks with authority because he knows what he is talking about. Thank you.

      In addition, I believe this commentary on higher education speaks to patterns of results and abuses found in many of our nations institutional structures, problems growing like cancers at and alarming rate throughout our society.

      For example regarding transportation see:

      For example regarding banking see today’s WSJ article entitled:

      Notable and Quotable: Hensarling on Dodd – Frank.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    The way to do Higher Ed is voucher to the student not more money to the University.

    That will effectively cap the amount and let the Student decide how to spend the voucher and how much more they want to add for the “extras”.

    Lots of talk in Bacon’s Rebellion about the cost of “entitlements” for the “poor” and whether they are worth it or not.

    Well – this, in fact, is also an entitlement, and clearly it’s out of control and instead of actually doing something about it – serious reform – what we get is whining… and bluff threats..

    Virginia needs to give each kid a voucher for books and tuition and needs to require every College and University in Va to offer a basic degree for that voucher. Let the charge for “extras” and let students decide if they want to pay more for them but get the taxpayers out of paying for anything beyond the basic option.

    And I’d offer that voucher to ANY child who qualifies academically – period.

    every kid who graduates K-12 in Va – gets a guaranteed basic college education.

    right now – higher ed is the “entitlement” for only some folks – and those willing to go into hock up to their eyeballs for “deluxe” 4 year college “experience”.

    we have to get serious about this both in terms of the Universities out of control spending, predatory behaviors that drive people into heavy debt – especially lower income folks not sophisticated about debt.

    We have many, many folks that ought to go to 2 year colleges and get occupational certificates – and that should be paid for by voucher also.
    That turns out to be one of the “perks” of going into the military – unfortunately – those vouchers are also abused by private sector “colleges” but in truth – our public 4yr higher ed are getting just as bad..

  8. In Tennessee, which has no incime tax, community colleges have been made free from tuition by Republican Governor Bill Haslam. And each Tennessee resident attending a Tennessee public or private four year college or university receives a $5000 “Promise” scholarship.
    And more and more states are makiing community colleges free and many states are allowing some community colleges to offer four year degrees in occupational/technical fields.
    So change is coming but when will it get to Virginia? Who knows?

    1. The drum needs to beat for controlling costs, not funding–this will assure access. When the lending bubble bursts, tuition/fees will fall faster than LeBron’s jammer.

  9. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Years ago, I attended a conference on public policy issues and advocacy. The sponsor had invited guests from all over to give perspectives and debate issues. One attendee was a former member of Britain’s Parliament (Labor). He gave an extremely insightful discussion of economic power. First, he made a good case that, in most of the private sector markets, economic power had shifted from producers to consumers. Hence, better products and services and lower prices, at least in real terms.

    Next, he said the opposite is generally true in the public sector. Because of a monopoly, economic power tended to remain with the producers, rather that shift to the consumers.

    This talk was one of life’s light bulb moments for me – a time when I was presented with an cogent statement that brought thought to order. Of course, there are shades of grey and exceptions. But by and large, my neighbor from Britain gave me a workable explanation of the economic situation.

    My own experience allows me to proffer an additional factor – heavy government funding or regulation tends to protect producer power and reduce consumer benefits. Now I’m not arguing against any government funding of programs that touch market (e.g., I’m not opposed to public schools) or arguing against any regulation (e.g., markets do not work perfectly and there are bad players). But given heavy involvement of government in transportation, health care, higher education and some other areas, we see continued producer power and missing consumer benefits.

    I think that these problems cannot be fixed unless and until we all agree on the nature of the problem – producer control of some “markets.”

Leave a Reply