Monday, August 27, 2012

Tick. Tock.

As of two weeks ago, Chez Skipper is an empty nest. Both the woman and man children are now at Washington State University.

For the last half year or so, if I stopped what I was doing, I could hear the ethereal pendulum of an invisible clock swinging remorselessly, slightly louder with each descent. Of course, time is marking off for all of us always, but some events, rubicons, whose approach is sufficiently obvious, particularly tune our ears to its relentless march.

When the other SWIPIAW and I headed for the airport, the rest of their lives, and ours, started.

As portentous as all that is, in all senses of the term, over the months my mind couldn't help but wander away from the universe's escapement mechanism. Frequently, it ended up in the financial morass we call higher education.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a collectivist. I'll leave that to those whose visions are without constraint. Yet I can't help but apply that collectivist term "fairness" to the ravenous monetary maw college educations have become: $26,000 per year, not including books, travel, or incidentals. It is worth noting that we picked WSU for its proximity and cost. It is the closest suitable college to Alaska that is only four times as expensive as it should be, instead of ten. And while the Skipper sprogs are no doubt exemplars of their kind, I don't doubt there are many every bit as meritorious, but whose choice of parental units was less fortunate. For them, even a decidedly middling college is either out of reach, or attainable only through the prospect of years laboring out from underneath debt.

The questions are, or at least should be, obvious. Colleges impart no more education now -- leaving aside for the moment the intrinsic value of what higher education pedagogy hurls from its podia -- yet the cost to purchase it has skyrocketed.

Consider a microcosm of the college experience, textbooks.

When it comes to economics, one the nice things about books is that once invented, they have scarcely changed, making the concept of inflation far easier to apply. Over the last forty years, without any adjustment, the number of dollars required to purchase a hard back book has roughly tripled. Over that same period, the unadjusted cost of college textbooks has increased over seven times. As for the wider picture, I'll bet the average college budget top line is an order of magnitude greater. Why?

Two reasons, probably. Just as the CRA created the housing bubble, government attempts to ameliorate unfairness have just made the problem worse. James Taranto has also theorized that court decisions eliminating aptitude tests with racially disparate outcomes has caused companies to look elsewhere for talent proxies: college diplomas have become de rigueur where they once were beside the point.

No matter. Despite being an admission against interest, the sooner this government fueled and fortified fleecing collapses, the better for all of us.


Blogger Bret said...

I agree with "tick tock". The older daughter got her driver's license today and is probably off to college in just two years.

August 27, 2012 6:17 PM  
Blogger Bret said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

August 27, 2012 6:19 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

It was a lot cheaper to go to Moo U in the '60s, but college staffs weren't paid much. The profs barely made it into the lower middle class, and the janitors lived in tumbledown shacks.

College is like a trolley line: Once you pay the conductor a living wage, you can no longer cover expenses out of the fare box.

August 28, 2012 12:03 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


But I think if you calculated the student : teacher ratio, at $20,000 per student, you would find the teachers wildly overpaid.

(Which -- depending on the subject -- they might be at a dollar per semester.)

There are two problems with your analysis. First, the explosion of deadweight overhead. And, second, there seems never to have been any shortage of professors (depending upon the subject, which aren't the ones to which I alluded above).

For many occupations / professions, compensation is more than just monetary.

August 28, 2012 4:00 AM  
Blogger Susan's Husband said...

Skipper is right that the cost bloat is mostly in the administration side. That has expanded hugely and with large salaries. The other major cost driver is amenities for staff and sometimes students. Professorial salaries are a minor issue.

August 28, 2012 5:51 AM  

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