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July 9th, 2010

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04:36 pm - Puzzling College Data
I just ran into an article that was about college spending increases in the US, which contained the following very puzzling data:
The United States is reputed to have the world’s wealthiest postsecondary education system, with average spending of around $19,000 per student compared with $8,400 across other developed countries, said the report, “Trends in College Spending 1998-2008,” by the Delta Cost Project, a nonprofit group in Washington that promotes greater scrutiny of college costs to keep tuitions affordable.

“Our analysis shows that these comparisons are misleading,” Jane Wellman, the group’s executive director, said in an e-mail statement. “While the United States has some of the wealthiest institutions in the world, it also has a ‘system’ of postsecondary education with far more economic stratification than is true of any other country.”

Community colleges, which enroll about a third of students, spend close to $10,000 per student per year, Ms. Wellman said, while private research institutions, which enroll far fewer students, spend an average of $35,000 a year for each one.
Obviously, the US has some astoundingly expensive private universities that spend vast amounts on their students (who are typically from exceedingly wealthy families), as well as state schools that spend almost equally vast amounts on their athletic departments, and both of these factors skew the US figures. The first case seems to clearly be a marker of how much economic inequality is in the US vs. the rest of the first world and the 2nd is a marker of the extreme importance of college athletics in the US.

However, even if you eliminate those two factors, you are still left with the surprising figure that US community college spend on average $10,000 per student, vs. overall spending of $8,400 per post-secondary student in the rest of the first world. That's very puzzling indeed. When I left grad school, I briefly considered trying to find work teaching at a community college, and between the extreme difficulty in getting hired and the exceptionally low salaries (which in the US range from low to ludicrously low), I decided against it. In any case, community colleges are not spending large sums of money on their faculty, nor do they have high end athletic departments, and so I remain utterly baffled as to why per student spending at the lowest end of US post-secondary education is a full 20 higher than the average for all post-secondary schools in the rest of the first world. Most other first world nations provide far more in the way of financial assistance to college students, but it's not at all clear to me why or how this would reduce cost, and all figures I've seen indicate that US colleges and universities are on average no better than similar institutions in the rest of the first world. My only conclusion is that like healthcare, US post-secondary education is simply far less efficient than post-secondary education elsewhere, but I'm very curious as to what the reasons might be.

Note: All figures are per student, per year, not per degree
Current Mood: curiouscurious

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 9th, 2010 11:51 pm (UTC)
Among other things, most colleges, even community ones, provide at least some health care to their students -- some charge a nominal fee but some don't. I can easily see that adding about 1600 to the perstudent cost. Most other first world countries have national health care.
[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 05:24 am (UTC)
Keep in mind also that this might include research grants and the like, which fund the school but which also largely go back into the corporations that fund the research, in the form of patents. A lot of companies now outsource their R&D to colleges, which *does* give the students the educational experience of working on real R&D, but which also saves the corporations a lot of money and overhead. (especially in the long run) A few million that goes into developing an experimental drug would show up on a cursory examination of the funds per student, but most of the value would go right back into the corporation with only a small percentage of that value really being transferred onto the student.
[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 05:28 am (UTC)
That's an excellent point. However, does this happen at community colleges? I've only heard of this sort of thing happening at universities.
[User Picture]
Date:July 10th, 2010 05:48 am (UTC)
It happens at community colleges- it's not usually multi-million dollar programs, but every college- including community colleges, uses industrial grants to stay active.

It depends on the level of research and what's required. Keep in mind that community college professors have PhDs as well- if all you really want is one PhD (say, to review a business plan or do the preliminaries for a larger study) who can bring on a few assistants, then a community college is perfect. Community colleges also bring in other money by being an advertising source/local event center. There are a lot of 'small business opportunities' (usually scams) 'recruiting sessions' (often scams) and local events that use the extra rooms at community colleges on the weekend or during their off-hours.

It's not as much money, but that helps account for the discrepancy.
[User Picture]
Date:July 11th, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
I think in terms of research universities, it's at least partially because US universities tend to be better than non-US. In terms of research and graduate programs, they are far better on the whole. In terms of education (teaching undergrads), I think it depends on what you're measuring. US universities tend to give a more "well rounded" liberal education, with broad requirements where the student gets more of a big picture view. Non-US universities tend to focus more on one career and specialization, in some cases giving the student a superior education within a single field, but the course requirements tend to be more narrow.

As for community colleges, that's a great question! I have no idea. It doesn't seem like they should cost more here, as I don't imagine they are providing something any different from what is provided outside the US. The only thing I can think of is that, despite teaching salaries seeming abysmally low in the US compared to salaries of other professions here, you've got to take into account that most salaries are higher in the US in general. So perhaps what seems low here is actually still higher than the average elsewhere. I didn't think of the health care angle, but someone mentions that which sounds like a good point.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2010 03:33 pm (UTC)
My tuition bill for the fall semester at community college, for 12 credits, is about $1200.
[User Picture]
Date:July 12th, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
That's a bit lower than in other places I've know, but not by much. The $10,000 per student per year is not about how much the students spend, but about how much is spent on them, and community colleges get money from a variety of other sources.

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