The $10K Degree – Comparing University and College Prices

This is the seventh post in a series of undetermined length. All posts are categorized as $10K Degree.

If the first two years of a $10K degree are taken at a community college, a student should be pretty much on track for a $10,000 baccalaureate. Then the university tuition kicks in for years 3 and 4. The average in-state undergraduate tuition at a 4-yr school is roughly three times what it is at a CC (see post #5 for more details).

So why are the 4-yr universities so much more expensive than the 2-yr colleges? There’s a whole host of reasons, but here are some of them:

  • Many more faculty with doctorates at a university – and positions requiring a doctorate naturally pay more than positions requiring a master’s degree (which is the most common degree held by CC faculty).
  • As I’ve already indicated in previous posts, university faculty teach about half as much as college faculty. They generally have higher salaries and generally teach a lot less – therefore, the faculty salary cost per student taught is much larger at universities than at colleges. They teach less because they are expected to pursue academic research – which is the topic of the next post in the series.
  • Most universities have many more and much larger facilities than most 2-yr colleges. You can find some exceptions to the rule – but that rule is still a pretty good one.  Big, lavish buildings cost a lot of money. How important are the jogging trails, climbing walls, fabulous landscaping, beautiful student lounges and game rooms? Colleges have some of this stuff, but not to the extent that you find it on university campuses.
  • Most universities spend much more lavishly on athletics than do theSun Devils football colleges. Some colleges have athletics (without spending that much on them – there are no million dollar coaches at the colleges), but many colleges have no athletics at all. There’s probably a university out there that has no athletic teams, but I haven’t heard of them. And most universities lose money on their athletics – so students either pay more for tuition or pay a special athletics fee – or both. If you want a very good and long reading on the deplorable status of college sports, check out the Atlantic article: “The Shame of College Sports.” For the record, I love college sports. However, if I’m going to be practical about it, the whole thing has very little to do with educating our citizens.
  • Most universities have a much larger non-instructional staff per student than do colleges. I’m talking about the number of administrators, secretaries, custodians, lab assistants, middle managers, etc. I’ve been looking for some research to back up this claim, and when I find it, I’ll stand down if I’m wrong. But I think I’m right. (See notes 1 & 2 below)
  • Just the cost of security alone at universities is often an enormous amount of money. They have the equivalent of their own police force scouring the campus, ever vigilant against the freshman prankster. Colleges have security also, but most of these are bare bones staff or of the rent-a-cops variety. (Just wondering: why don’t universities have their own fire department, too?)
  • In short, everything is just bigger and more expensive at the typical state university than at the typical state college. Tuition, on average, costs the student about 3 times as much at a university than at a college.

The Question: Are all the trappings at the typical university worth the cost of the extra tuition to the students?

NOTE 1: as one example for bloated cost of non-instructional staff, check out the University of Michigan flagship campus in Ann Arbor where Wolverine administrators received over $366 million in pay during 2009-10. The total allocation of state funds to the U that year was $325 million – which doesn’t even cover the pay for administrators. This doesn’t include all the other non-instructional staff. This situation would never occur at a 2-year college – or even anywhere close to it.

NOTE 2: for sheer numbers of non-instructional employees, check out Michigan State University as another example. Fall 2010 showed 4,921 faculty positions (that includes adjuncts and anyone else teaching a class), and 6,220 non-instructional employees. In that case, 44% of the total positions were faculty, with 56% non-instructional. My former employer ( a 2-yr school) had 292 faculty out of 551 total positions for 53% faculty, 47% non-instructional (in 2010).

BTW, I’m not trying to pick on the Michigan universities. It’s just that their data was easy to find – and many of the other schools I looked at had no data available at all.

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2 Responses

  1. […] The $10K Degree – Comparing University and College Prices […]

  2. three other factors affect the low price for a CC course: 1.Much more narrowly focused set of offerings at the CC than a U. 2. Larger average enrollment per course at CC. 3. Revenue options – Many CCs have local taxing authorization which can/should/must offset tuition costs.

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