Monday, September 22, 2014

Enrollment and tuition concerns

Ran across two items over the weekend about the market for higher education.  Chronicle of Higher Education reports the results of a survey of senior executives.  The survey found that 85% are very or somewhat worried about enrollment.  The enrollment worries are driven by higher tuition and competition from other schools.  Yet almost half plan on raising tuition another notch!  Relatively few were looking for ways to cut costs or generate more revenue.

Why has tuition been rising so much?  Michigan economist Susan Dynarski shows that the main culprit for public universities has been declining state support (NYT Upshot).  She shows that public colleges collected $11300 in state funding and tuition per student in 1988; this amount rose to $11500 in 2013.  Over this period state funds dropped from $8600 to $6100, whereas tuition rose from $2700 to $5400.  One need not look any further for an explanation of why public schools have increased tuition.

But what about private schools?  Since public universities have become more expensive, this has led to increased interest in private schools and allowed them to raise their tuition as well.  

Longer term the prognosis for public schools is not great.  State governments are faced with rising expenses for Medicaid and employee retirement and health care.  I am not aware of any governor or legislator running on a platform of raising taxes to preserve funding for higher education.  It will be up to the public universities to either get a handle on costs or find their own sources of funds.  

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