Saturday, February 4, 2012

UW needs to control tuition costs

President Obama has hit on something that should not go unnoticed by the Governor and the members of the legislature even if the Trustees at the University of Wyoming fail to get the message. "So let me put colleges and universities on notice,” said the President in the State of the Union message, “If you can't stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down."

Governors, legislators and the University of Wyoming have ignored this issue. Obama is right to call out the colleges on this. Governor Mead and the Joint Appropriations Committee should call out UW who, the day before Obama’s speech, announced they’d be asking for yet another tuition increase this year. Since 2000, UW has hiked tuition with regularity and at a rate exceeding inflation.

Students and their parents have been taught to accept tuition increases as the reality of life. A college education should not cost so much as it does. If we are going to compete in the global economy we need a far better educated work force. We need well-educated people. They need college to be affordable. Second, this is one cause of the growing disparity between the wealthy and the middle class. Wealthy families are unaffected by tuition increases. Middle class families, on the other hand, are already squeezed hard. When tuition becomes as unaffordable as it has in recent years, their children must borrow the money.

Student loans topped 100 billion dollars last year and will exceed a trillion this year. Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards. The enormous cost of a college education means a young person must take on a debt that will make him and her an indentured servant for years to come. That means young adults will be unable to buy cars, houses or other goods that help the economy grow while they are paying off these tuition loans.

It’s not just tuition. The cost of textbooks is a scandal that has gone unnoticed by University officials. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently investigated. The GAO concluded the high cost of textbooks was unwarranted. They found college textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation since the 1980s, averaging 6% per year. New editions with minimal alterations are released unnecessarily. A flap with a CD or a DVD is added. Students with the third edition are unable to sell back their expensive books because this semester there is an even higher priced 4th edition. Meanwhile, publishers make it difficult or impossible for students to take advantage of lower prices on international markets.
Significantly, the GAO also found there is a lack of concern or knowledge of these issues on campus. In other words, the University doesn’t care. It all pays the same. Here’s hoping the President makes good on this threat so that interest in the administrative building at UW grows.

Why wait for the feds? State government leaders should take action. Article 7, Section 16 of Wyoming’s Constitution provides that an education at the University of Wyoming must be “as nearly free as possible.” Admittedly those are rather vague words. However “as nearly free as possible” must have meant something to the founders who wrote those words. If state officials can’t understand the meaning, perhaps it’s time for a good lawyer to ask the courts to do so.

The Legislature should suspend any further tuition increases until the University reports back with recommendations on reforms they can make to comply with the State Constitution.  There are some smart people up there who could figure out how to tie tuition rates to affordability, graduation and the ability of grads to get a job.

Requiring UW to explore the use of technology, revised course requirements and teaching techniques as well as budget priorities would yield alternatives to pricing a lot of young people out of an affordable education.


  1. Rev. McDaniels,

    This time I strongly agree with you! For several years, colleges and universities (be it UW or somewhere else in our country) have consistently raised tuition prices (and not just to keep up with cost of living increases). I was honestly quite shocked to hear the statement from Pres. Obama considering that most of the profs., staff, and administration are committed liberals who pump in valuable campaign dollars.

    As a recent Ph.D. grad (and B.S. undergrad) of UW, I can tell that they don't give a hoot about the students. They only care about new buildings that are wasteful (hello football suites) or largely unnecessary (college of business and the new fine arts building). Since I've completed my matriculation, I consistently receive offers to donate money to UW. I'm certain this is the case at other institutions across the country.

    Now, my four main critiques...

    First, these colleges and universities insist to every 18 year old that you have to go to college, receive an undergrad (and now even a grad) degree to be someone in this society. Baloney. I'm sure we both know several smart and successful people who didn't set foot in college. While this is not meant to belittle anyone, there are some people who just aren't cut out for college. It's not their fault, of course, but it just isn't for them.

    Second, we consistently hear about colleges having to raise tuition and/or ask for public funding to stay afloat. How come they don't take some money out from their endowment funds? These funds, such as the $31 billion at Harvard, are obscene amounts of money. Why not use that money to pay for the tuition and books for low-income students (that's just about everyone!)? Instead, these universities hardly ever dip into their endowment funds. I understand it's for a rainy day, but if the public knew about the millions and billions of non-taxed money these schools are hoarding, they'd be understandably upset. The problem is that most of the public only view colleges as where the football/basketball teams play (another huge moneymaker that doesn't get criticized).

    3. I completely agree with you also regarding the textbooks. I've sat in on a talk given by a chemistry prof who is a noted analytical chemistry textbook author. He has authored several editions of, essentially, the same book. Granted, technologies and methodologies are improved over several years. However, it's a racket between the profs., publishers, and the bookstores. The campus bookstores charge exorbitant rates for the books and also for miscellaneous clothes and even makeup at UW!

    4. Lastly, just as the oil executives are criticized for it, I'd like to see college deans and presidents have to testify before Congress (regardless of which political party is in control) to explain why they gouge their customers (i.e., students) with exorbitant prices and make them take useless fluff courses that have no relation to the field of study of the student.

    Overall, these colleges and universities are moneymaking schemes (and that engage in liberal indoctrination) that deserve to be critiqued and analyzed just as much as any big corporation. I'd also like to see these colleges and universities 'pay their fair share' in income an d property taxes. Imagine what the tax money could do for Laramie, a town with considerable budget demands due to the gross lack of any other industry there. Thanks for getting the ball started on it!


  2. One more quick rant...

    Don't forget the pyramid scheme of academia too. At UW, I've known profs who don't show up til 10:00 a.m., play basketball and take a long lunch, and leave at 5:00 p.m. while it's the grad students who do the grading, teaching, and research work. Also, these same profs , be they at UW or elsewhere, do have a general disdain for the public and often make snide remarks regarding those who just aren't as smart as they are. Imagine if the general public heard that stuff!!

    I'll shut my mouth and stop with the endless ranting.


  3. AMEN Leif...except for that part about engaging in "liberal indoctrination." :)

    1. Touche sir! But in being serious, I suspect that at some point in our near future, there might be a major reform of education with respect to cost, tenure of faculty, and athletics. Maybe we should return to trade schools??