Hosing the Middle Class: Campus Edition

UVa college bookstore
UVa college bookstore. Don’t get me started…

by James A. Bacon

Paige Taul, a 19-year-old University of Virginia student, earns $8.25 as a cashier at a college bookstore. Assuming no taxes were taken out of her paycheck, she would have to work about 80 hours to earn the $657 that UVa charges its students through fees to support the athletic program.

“Wow, that doesn’t seem fair,” Taul told the Washington Post, in an article about the cost of college sports. The irony is that Taul, who expects to graduate with about $30,000 in debt, doesn’t go to football games. As the Post dryly observes, “She’s too busy working.”

“Athletics is a common good, bringing people together, developing relationships, unifying the institution, bringing fantastic exposure,” said Virginia Athletic Director Craig Littlepage. While UVa’s football team is nothing to brag about, its basketball team last year flirted with greatness, and the university is a perennial powerhouse in lacrosse, tennis, soccer and golf. But maintaining those programs is expensive. In 2014, $70.5 million in athletic department revenues had to be supplemented by $13.2 million in student fee income to keep the programs going.

That $657 fee is a not-insignificant contributor to the cost of attending the University of Virginia, where in 2015 total tuition, fee, room, board, textbooks and miscellaneous expenses amounted to about $28,800. (The cost is about $10,000 higher for out-of-state students.) The problem of escalating costs has gotten so bad that the Board of Trustees approved a new plan that will jack up tuition by $2,000 over two years to raise money for financial aid for the lowest-income students… but makes education even more unaffordable for middle-class students.

Here’s my question: Why does the Board of Trustees require students like Taul to subsidize the athletics program? Why can’t the athletic program support itself? Does UVa really need to field nationally competitive teams in tennis, golf and soccer that generate next-to-zero revenue? It strikes me that the university’s priorities are severely out of whack.

Higher ed has lost its moorings. Virginia needs a new kind of higher ed institution that provides a stripped-down service — an education without the bells and whistles — for an affordable price. Actually, that’s not a new idea. That’s the kind of education once provided by the old “commuter colleges” like George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University before they reinvented themselves as residential institutions aspiring to national status, and it’s the kind of education that many European universities provide today.

Middle-class families are in desperate straits, squeezed by stagnant incomes, soaring medical bills and the ever-escalating cost of a higher education (the entry ticket for a middle-class occupation). Higher ed has failed the middle class miserably. UVa’s top fiscal priority at present is to help low-income students and high-income faculty. The “Affordable Excellence” plan will ensure that no low-income student accrues more than $4,000 in need-based loans over four years. The plan also aims to make the salaries of full professors, which average $156,900 this year, more competitive with those of other elite institutions. The goal is to achieve a Top-20 ranking faculty salary ranking among institutions in the Association of American Universities.

What’s in the Affordable Excellence plan for Virginia’s middle-class students? Free football tickets! … Assuming they can make it to the games.

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25 responses to “Hosing the Middle Class: Campus Edition”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    I would amend this sentence:

    “Higher ed has failed the middle class miserably. UVa’s top fiscal priority at present is to help low-income students and high-income faculty.”

    To say:

    “Higher ed has failed the middle class miserably. UVa’s top fiscal priority at present is to help low-income students and high-income faculty as well its rapidly expanding corps of Administrators tasked with promoting the political and ideological agendas of those running our US Federal Government, and it various agencies.”

  2. Every class is failed when football coaches are paid at the rate of five to ten times the remuneration of the POTUS or pres. of the institution by whom they are employed.

  3. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I second the motion on the amendment….

    This horse gets beaten regularly but shows no signs of responding. The trend lines continue to accelerate. I fought a proposed student athletic fee at W&M when I was in the student senate in 1974 (anything to get in the paper, even then)! Forty years later the departing and arriving football coaches at Tech and UVA get a full half page on the front of the Times Dispatch on back to back days. We don’t value education in this country – we value football.

    I spent years arguing for increased state support for in-state undergrads through the existing funding mechanism. The political will is no longer there (I do expect to see the Governor put some new money in this session) and using that method does not put any pressure on the schools to control costs. There needs to be market transparency. So I’m coming around to a voucher approach. The state does this with its Tuition Assistant Grants for private schools. Just give every qualifying in-state student a flat amount TAG grant to be used at any school, public or private. At UVA or W&M it will be enough to cover one or two semesters at today’s prices and at some other school it might cover five or six semesters. The school that figures out how to match its cost to that amount will have plenty of takers.

    Just a random thought…

    1. Vouchers — something serious to consider. We ought to noodle that idea around to see how it might work.

  4. LarrytheG Avatar

    I guess I’d be lower than a snake to suggest that the General Assembly seems to have much more fiscal backbone when it comes to dealing with the MedicAid Expansion than taxpayer subsidies to Higher Ed sports teams, eh?

    I don’t think the middle class is getting hosed – I think they CHOOSE to be hosed and the General Assembly falls all over themselves to help them!

    can the pathetic whining from the “it’s all about me” middle class be any more obnoxious and hypocritical?

  5. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    I will agree with you Larry to this extent: The General Assembly reacts to what it hears from the voters, and the message from the voters is don’t spend any more money on Medicaid than absolutely mandatory but also don’t take our tax dollars and send it by the bushel to the state colleges. Plenty of voters would prefer to spend no state dollars on either. And plenty of voters probably think that if a new coach at VT is going to be paid $3 million a year, that is coming from the taxpayers. It isn’t of course.

    There is no general fund appropriation for the sports programs – instead there is a tacit acceptance when the school governing boards make their own decisions to “tax” their students to cover the costs not paid by tickets, donations, broadcast revenue, etc.

    We are still benefiting today from the education boom that followed WWII and Korea and continued until the end of the 20th Century, but there is solid reason to fear that the peak has passed and 20 years from now the cost of higher ed in the 21st Century will be eating far more into the benefits.

  6. LarrytheG Avatar

    on MedicAid – – you’re going to spend the money on those without health care – it’s really a question of how you choose to do it .

    on education – there needs to be a “boom” across the board – because k-12 is insufficient for 21st century jobs… but that doesn’t mean we have no choice but to subsidize sports programs..

    lots of kids would LOVE to be able to go to a higher ed school that gets them a degree that leads to a job – and not feel that their own option to do that was a Va school with a big sports program.

    we CHOOSE as consumers to attend big sports schools and we CHOOSE as taxpayers to support de-factor subsidies for those schools.

    we have an excellent Community College system in Va – that lots of kids who can’t afford UVA would love to be able to attend – with some similar level of State and Federal support ….

    we make choices then we whine about them.

    1. You are so right! We will pay regardless, it’s only a question of how. There’s a choice; we whine! Sometimes we even whine about what WE chose. Take athletic subsidies for instance: identity politics always has a powerful draw in this world, and the good old US is not immune to the power of identity groups. Like any form of payment of “dues,” the dominant or best organized “identity” within the group (black students? varsity boosters? labor union organizers? UVA alumni?) will try to make it a mandatory assessment for their group rather than a voluntary donation if it can.

  7. Ah yes, community college. Where one can make a career out of getting a 2 year degree.

    Yes you need this course. Sorry the pre-req isn’t available THIS year.

    Oh you got that course? Sorry we changed the curriculum and those credits aren’t in the program any more.

    In order to get a degree, you need to take an operating system course. No, you can’t take Windows because the teacher hates Microsoft. You can learn OS2 instead. Even though you are in the Windows tract.

    Budding long haul truck drivers get plenty of practical experience while driving their car way out into the country to where the trucks are.

    It’s a good thing there are a lot of campuses in community college. Otherwise no one would ever graduate. When you are attending school in three or four different cities just to get the courses you need, it’s no wonder they call it commuter college.

  8. LTG, it’s not all about athletics in choosing a school.

    There are certain majors (undergrad and above) available at only specific schools: Medicine, law, agriculture, engineering, veterinary science to name a few.

    I started in chemistry but after realizing I wanted to change to physics and/or engineering there was no choice but to move. In retrospect it was great because of experiencing two very different academic cultures. Tech wouldn’t give me transfer credit for my W&M courses such as German, French, Economics, etc. but that’s OK since they were very worthwhile.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    @JohnB – but you don’t have to attend a big sports school to get Medicine, law, ag, engineering, etc… Cal Tech and MIT are two examples of top tier schools with minimal sports programs.

    there are others that provide the academics without the sports.

    we make choices. UVA is actually offering what people want – the problem is they have Champagne tastes and beer budgets so they want to “force” UVA to be something UVA does not want to be –

    UVA and other big sports Universities are selling a product – and they know their customers.

    Many a person has gotten a top notch degree in a valuable field – without doing the big sports school deal.

  10. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Jim Bacon’s article is right on target.

    “Paige Taul, a 19-year-old University of Virginia student, earns $8.25 as a cashier at a college bookstore. Assuming no taxes were taken out of her paycheck, she would have to work about 80 hours to earn the $657 that UVa charges its students through fees to support the athletic program.”

    UVA’s sticking Paige Taul with that $657 athletic charge is grossly immoral.

    UVA athletic program can live within a 70.5 million dollar a year budget. But UVA does not want to. UVA thinks it has to appeal to the most base and banal instincts of its Alumni, so it sticks the weakest link, the Paige Taul’s of its world, with the bill. Why? Because UVA’s leaders thinks they can get away with it.

    UVA, its Board and its Alumni should be ashamed of themselves. Don’t hold your breath, on account of Shame or Morals. Its current leaders have not the courage for morals or shame. So Paige Taul’s bills keep coming and so does the daily squalor of sex scandals, faux and otherwise at UVA, is just another day at the beach at Mr. Jefferson’s Modern University.

  11. LarrytheG Avatar

    there used to be a time and place when the phrase “worked his way through school” was a compliment and acknowledgement that a person willing to work hard and persevere could indeed get a college education without a whimper of whining about the travails encountered.

    the title of this post – “Hosing the Middle Class” – screams an entitlement mentality in a blog that at other times decries such a mentality…. and urges things like having the free market deliver health care!

    It’s all about the money – the fact that since the govt provides the funding and student loans – that there is an expectation that UVA and others will “deliver” an “affordable” product.

    all of this at the same time – we decry the additional money needed to educate economically disadvantaged kids …..

    the irony is thick!

    need health care? let the free market deliver it – not the govt!

    no one – middle class or otherwise is “entitled” to UVA or any other institution to provide them with a desired price point for college – any more or less than Cadillac or Neiman Marcus is required to deliver a product that fits your own desires and finances….. because the govt is “subsidizing” it!

    UVA knows exactly what they are selling – they know their competitors and they know their customers and they’ve priced their product accordingly – along with appropriate feel-good PR about their “mission” to cater to the middle class.

    so I have a simple question –

    what is it that “entitles” the middle class to an affordable degree at UVA?

    1. It’s really not an entitlement, even though you laid out earlier the reasons why it SHOULD be an entitlement: a well-prepared workforce these days requires more than a K-12 education. If UVA wants to charge more than the baseline — let’s call that the community college — well, then the question is, is that what parents are willing to pay extra for? But if you accept that a RESIDENTIAL college degree is essentially a necessity for a “well-rounded” kid today, then grant UVA a near-monopoly over setting standards for that necessity in Virginia, you get the abuses Jim has outlined here.

  12. LarrytheG Avatar

    Here’s an interesting article on Student loan debt

    Student Debt in America: Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist

    ” The American student loan crisis is often seen as a problem of profligacy and predation. Wasteful colleges raise tuition every year, we are told, even as middle-class wages stagnate and unscrupulous for-profit colleges bilk the unwary. The result is mounting unmanageable debt.

    There is much truth in this diagnosis. But it does not explain the plight of Liz Kelley, a Missouri high school teacher and mother of four who made a series of unremarkable decisions about college and borrowing. She now owes the federal government $410,000, and counting.”

    $410,000 dollars! you read it right?

    how does that happen? read on:


    the real question is WHY she was able to borrow more and more money – ….

  13. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    When a person is deeply unhappy then odd and otherwise inexplicable things can often begin to happen. For example, they acquire bad habits, even self- destructive habits. Why? Because typically these are efforts to avoid or blunt the anxiety and pain that these unhappy states inflict on people give. And at best such efforts give only brief relief, and so easily morph into compulsive obsessive behaviors. Then they deepen, become more destructive and extreme. Thus they can ruin a life, or cause it deep lasting damage as over time they become ever more difficult to reverse.

    These bad habits of course can take many forms. Many unhappy people go on shopping or gambling sprees, intent on spending their own money or their families money until it runs out. Or they abuse of others, friends, family, and strangers alike. Often such abuse busts families apart or forces them into poverty, or endless work without retirement, or much else in between, such as a parent’s or child’s or young single’s inability to learn, or grow personally, or get or keep a job or work up to anywhere near the abilities they possess by reason of their God given talents. The list of habits driven by deep seated unhappiness and ever more frantic efforts to escape it take many other forms, drugs, compulsive promiscuity, violence, suicide, a plethora of mindless actions driven by narrow thoughtless ideologies etc.

    Unfortunately these pathological behaviors can quickly infect groups. Indeed these negative behaviors often run rampant through whole segments of societies. Group behavior, it’s dynamics, often inflames the contagion, driving it higher. The very intensity of the original unhappy state bonds the group tighter as those within it seek Adrenalin highs and group solidarity and euphoria to temporarily dull their anxiety, angst, and mental distress.

    This is one reason that demagogues (and/or demagogic behavior by leaders) often rise in such groups. Groups by nature seek and thrive on solidarity, particular those comprised of unhappy people who seek group solidarity as an antidote to the angst rampant among those individual members. The group members then become tools for demagogic behaviors used by leaders to gain control over, and build, maintain and expand their power over the group, and thereafter manipulate the groups behavior for their advantage. Hence some leaders become demagogues, experts at whipping up and playing on peoples fears and angst so as to gain, hold, and increase their own control over the group, using it for the leaders personal advantage.

    This phenomenon we see over and over again in history because Group Dynamics accentuates, accelerates, and solidifies the groups bad habits, forming groups into mass cult like group thinking that taken to extremes often rises to hysteria and related bad behavior such as street violence.

    So here leaders separate themselves in good or bad leaders, or ineffective leaders that typical lead to results as awful as those achieved by bad leaders.

    For here leaders need integrity and strong character as well as political and moral courage to mold group behavior to the benefit of the group generally and also to stand up against negative forces that can so often naturally arise in group dynamics. Far too often today our leaders fail to measure up to this test. Far too often their dark side pushes them into taking political advantage of a group situation rather than resisting pressure its negative forces sure to rise in the group while at the same time having the leadership skills and strength fix the problem confronting the group or organization.

    Demographic behavior, however, comes in many variant forms, active and passive, depending on the leaders, and their own and group circumstances.

    A prime example of this was President Teresa Sullivan’s now infamous November 2014 speech of solidarity with those pushing the lie of the Rolling Stones story. But why did she say what she said so even though some leaders (including herself) quite likely knew before hand the Rolling Stones story was a gross fabrication? And why and how did so many leaders within UVA keep pushing what should have been an unrelated political and personal agendas long after the story was exposed as a fabrication disguised as fact? And why did at best so many leaders at UVA take the easy way out, publicly stand aside in silence, while fellow members of the UVA family where being falsely attacked and defamed? And why did some few heroes rise to the occasion an speak out truthfully at risk to themselves, such as Dean Eramo, only to be pilloried for her principled stand by so many others.

    At best, these recent actions by so many at UVA represents groups hysteria, fueled and enabled in substantial part by a lack of integrity and moral character across a wide spectrum of leaders at UVA. And, if these leaders failed to act in the egregious times and events fueled by UVA’s long standing out of control hook-up culture and the political pressures brought down on their head by the current Administration of the Federal Government, how can we expect these same leaders to take a principled stand to keep UVA affordable for the average middle class Virginia family, or for boys who want to join a fraternity and/or date a girl without fear of a mob and star chamber proceeding, or any for any other members of the UVA family that today find themselves ignored, abused or otherwise out of political favor within the current intolerant and politically corrupt culture found at so many of our colleges and universities, and among our current political elite in America.

  14. Somewhat confused dialog here …

    1. Men’s football and men’s basketball make money at most colleges. In fact, the activities fees paid by the students would be a lot higher if those two sports didn’t contribute more than they cost. Poor Paige Taul isn’t paying to watch the men’s football team, she is paying for the men’s golf team she never knew existed.

    2. With the exception of someone like Taylor Swift all college students are poor. They may have wealthy parents, middle class parents or poor parents but the students themselves are almost universally poor adults. There is absolutely no legal requirement for the parents of adult children to financially support those children. If two adults enlist in the Marines and one adult has wealthy parents while the other adult has poor parents should the Marines pay the adult with wealthy parents less?

    3. Students at UVA will only stay poor if they choose a path that is not remunerative. They are already attending a university that offers numerous options for financially rewarding careers. These are not young adults bereft of options. If they need to borrow money to attend UVA they should plan on a major and career that will let them repay their debt.

    4. Neither Teresa Sullivan nor the Board of Visitors should have the right to levy taxes on the citizens of Virginia. Charging some students more because they have wealthy parents is a tax. In fact, it is a stupidly regressive tax on an adult based on the earnings of his or her parents. It is also a tax used to support gifts to adult students who should be well able to repay a loan after they graduate with their UVA degrees. A tax on the poor to benefit those who will be rich. Only in America. The General Assembly and the Governor have the authority to levy taxes. Any fees that overcharge some students in order to subsidize other students should be voted on by the cowards in Richmond. Needless to say, those cowards would much rather foist that responsibility on the President and BoV of UVA to avoid the inevitable fallout from voters. Once again, the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond has failed us.

    5. I put myself through UVA working during the school year as a waiter, research assistant, furniture mover, computer program debugger and lawn mower. I also accumulated considerable student debt (for the time) at interest rates that were astronomical compared to today. I graduated in four years with good grades and a job in hand (at a company where I remained for the next 30 years). I repaid all my student debt in full and on time. In due time Ms. Taul will come to realize that working during the school year to help put herself through college was perhaps the single best decision she made in her young life to date. I have done extensive study on what attributes a graduating student must possess in order to be a successful technologist. At a certain floor threshold of courses taken and grades achieved the difference is best seen in those who had to balance their time while in college. While this balance can happen in a number of ways the best indicator is a print out of pay stubs documenting the number of hours worked. Should Ms. Taul decide to pursue a career in technology with my company the benefits of her in-semester work will start to accrue the minute she shakes my hand for the opening interview.

    1. Don, you raise an absolutely critical point here. Let me try to summarize: It’s one thing to ensure that students from low-income families are given the financial means to attend the university, and quite another to give them preferential treatment that allows them to graduate with less debt than students from somewhat better-off families. All students graduating from UVa have roughly equal career prospects (depending upon the degree they earn). Thus, all students, regardless of their parents’ household income, have roughly equal ability to repay their debt when they graduate and get a job. What difference does it make if they come from poor families or not? (Let me know if that’s not what you’re saying.)

      This seems so extraordinarily wrong-headed that I wondered if I misunderstood the intent of the “Affordable Excellence” plan. Could the university really be capping debt for students from low-income families at $4,000, while students from better-off families (presumably like Paige Taul) are accumulating up to $30,000 in debt? I put in a call to UVa media relations to make sure I understood the plan correctly. No one has returned my phone call.

      If I have time, I will delve into the “Affordable Excellence” plan to get a better idea of how the financial aid is distributed. As far as I can tell, no one else is asking these questions.

      1. Yes, you get my point. Robin Hood subsidies should be reserved for people who are struggling to succeed in society. Students attending the University of Virginia do not qualify in that category regardless of the wealth of their parents. If the students need money – lend it to them but expect it to be paid back. If the student pursues a career in public service (such as working as a teacher in an economically challenged area) then forgive the debt over time. However, giving subsidies to an adult studying electrical engineering by charging another adult student in the Education Department more is a travesty.

        Teresa Sullivan and the other elitists on the UVA Board of Visitors need to get out of the wealth redistribution game. That game, if played at all, should be played exclusively by elected officials.

  15. LarrytheG Avatar

    Don’s argument about the wealth factor not only applies to low income – it applies to middle class also.

    what justifies making UVA “affordable” for the Middle Class?

    1. The question of whether UVA is affordable for the middle class should be asked of the students’ future economic status not the parents’ economic status. A 2013 undergraduate of UVA’s engineering school earned a $69,890 salary in their first year after college. The 22 year old engineering graduate starts his or her working career in the 91% of income in the United States.

  16. LarrytheG Avatar

    re: ” It’s one thing to ensure that students from low-income families are given the financial means to attend the university, and quite another to give them preferential treatment that allows them to graduate with less debt than students from somewhat better-off families”

    isn’t the entire idea of financial aid itself means-tested – regardless of loans – historically?

    1. Yes, and that’s the mistake – at least in some situations. The students are adults. The means which should be tested are their presumed future incomes not the incomes of their parents. I could see the argument made that subsidizing the adult children of poor parents could make sense in some situations for some colleges and universities. So long as that decision is made by elected officials with recorded votes – I have no problem with the process. The problem arises when Teresa Sullivan and the UVA BoV start cross – subsidizing one adult UVA student with the monies over-charged to another adult UVA student based on the means of their parents.

      Graduates (across all undergraduate degrees) at UVA earn a median “early salary” of $56,400 which puts them in the 87th percentile of individual income in the United States at a very young age.

      The flaw is basing the subsidy for an adult student on his or her parents’ income rather than his or her expected future income.

      Hold down costs? Absolutely. Provide loans to studens who need loans? Absolutely. Forgive the loans over time for students who pursue public service careers? Absolutely? Subsidize adults students who be among America’s Top 10% income earners by the time they are 26? Are you kidding me?

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        There is a discussion of these and related issues found in an article in the current Weekly Standard Dec. 7th 2015 edition entitled:

        “Not on My Dime – Time to phase out subsidies for higher education, by Neal McCluskey –

        Current events and consequences, including behavior and outcomes on campuses, and the remarkable expansion of the Federal Government’s efforts to regulate corporate behaviors on campus as well as regulate the behaviors of students, faculty, and administrators on campus, these current realities now raise the specter of a corrupt federal government’s abusive intrusion into the education of our children and college age adults.

        If this be true, why not cut off the root of the Federal Government abusive power by doing away with these subsidies? Cannot these subsidies be financed in other ways that remove current corruptions that are now rapidly growing within the system and do so in ways that force financial discipline on these out of control institutions, both on the level of the federal government as well as on the level the nation’s bloated colleges and universities.

        A related problem concerns the fairness of forcing taxpayers (whether they be by group or individual) to pay for other peoples higher education (whether the recipient be designated by group or individuals), given the reality and consequences today’s abuses going on in higher education. And also as a general matter. Here again, and as Don may suggest, are their not better ways and means to facilitate the private finance of the deserving students who attend institutions of higher education that have an obvious tract record of producing tangible financial benefits for those who graduate from their programs?

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