On March 27th, I made a presentation at the White House on how to control tuitin increases at American research universities. My first major point was that any attempt to contain tuition at public universities has to deal with state budget cuts for higher ed. I was told that the administration is aware of this issue, and they have been meeting with the presidents of several public universities to come up with a way to motivate states to stabilize higher ed funding.
My second major point was that while President Obama has been stressing affordability and access, he also has to focus on the quality of instruction. To make this point, I discussed how universities have been increasing the sizes of their classes and their dependence on under-supported non-tenure-track faculty to drive down the costs of instruction; meanwhile, the cost of administration, athletics, and construction has continued to increase. As I argue in my forthcoming book, the only way to control costs in higher education is to focus on providing quality instruction and research, but there are no incentives to make universities concentrate on their core missions.
One possible way of changing how universities spend their funds is to rank and rate universities based, in part, on the percentage of their budget that they spend on direct instructional costs (faculty salaries and benefits). I suggested to the administration that they add to their new College Scorecard statistics on how much of a university’s budget is spent on direct instructional costs and what percentage of their student credit hours are taught by full-time faculty. If universities had to report on these factors, they would need to commit more attention and funding to their core mission.
We also discussed President Obama’s fight to stop student loan interest rates from doubling this summer. I mentioned that in California, we are trying to freeze tuition by increasing the taxes on the wealthy, but we still need the federal government to combine the current emphasis on access and affordability with a focus on educational quality. Moreover, in the case of the UC system, it is clear that we have to force the governor and the legislature to dedicate new tax revenue to higher education. In fact, at the recent Regents meeting, several of the regents said that they do not think they can support the governor’s tax initiative if it does not dedicate funds directly to the UC in order to prevent another tuition increase. I have been meeting with people from the governor’s office and key legislators to push for a major increase in UC funding, but so far, no one has committed to guaranteeing UC funding and tying the higher education budget to the new tax initiative. We all need to work together now to push the governor and the legislature to provide enough funding to roll back recent tuition increases.