COMMENTARY | Ronald Reagan’s former Education Secretary and Bush’s Drug Czar William Bennett made headlines by declaring that only 150 of 3,500 U.S. colleges are “worth the investment.” He contended that some of this is due to the high cost of college in America, leading to the large amount of student loan debt.
Is college more expensive? According to Zelkadis Elvi with Yahoo Finance in the article “Just Explain It: Why Does A College Education Cost So Much?” the finding is “for decades, college tuition and fees have been outpacing family income and rising faster than inflation.”
Elvi offers several reasons why, including the cost of facilities, scholarships, and the high demand for a degree. But the article adds “Meanwhile, hefty contracts to administrators and faculty members are also passed on to students. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that from 1997 to 2007 academic presidential pay increased by 35%. In 2009 the highest paid university presidents made almost five million bucks.”
Elvi adds data from Bloomberg about university exit pay. The news about the severance package received by the Penn State University president only adds fuel to the fire.
But what about faculty pay? Elvi’s article doesn’t provide any statistics on this.
So I decided to research it myself. I found the American Association of University Professors Faculty Salary Survey, which includes a lot of higher end salaries, but these are among the most expensive universities. I only make a quarter of what a full professor at Columbia University or Stanford University made (and half of what their instructors earn). Of course, I live in a less expensive place. Besides, many of these schools with the higher salaries provide a college education that is “worth it,” according to Bennett, so that can’t be the problem.
According to the Carnegie Foundation, that same AAUP study revealed that “the average salary of a full-time faculty member increased by 1.7 percent in 2012-13, roughly keeping paced with inflation.” The report goes on to say “Indeed, in each of the prior three years, the average overall increase in salaries was less than the rate of inflation.” The AAUP study also showed “the increases in average salary were far from uniform….the (relatively) wealthy got wealthier.” And the data is skewed by the high earnings of faculty members from the very schools Bennett claims are “worth the investment.”
So are faculty salaries responsible for the high cost of college tuition and fees? The data just doesn’t support that argument.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga.
Picture is of the author teaching a class.