Tonight at the Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama called upon America to “cut in half the growth in tuition costs over the next 10 years.” I’m sure many conservatives will condemn that as yet another impossible promise brought by an overdose of hope. But there are a lot of ways that colleges and the government can work to restrain tuition, and many of them have been embraced by the AAUP.
First, we need more government funding for public higher education. The key cause of tuition hikes at public colleges has been the failure of the states and the federal government to adequately fund public higher education.
Second, we need more faculty control of universities. One major cause of higher tuition has been the massive growth in high-paid administrators. Faculty-run colleges are essential because the faculty can do the work that administrators have taken over, and faculty can provide the oversight that prevents waste.
Third, we need more equity in higher education. One of the biggest mistakes Joe Biden ever made was blaming higher tuition on faculty making too much money. The reality is that most faculty aren’t making more money. Salary increases have been concentrated among a few fields (such as business) and at elite universities. We had lower tuition and better universities in the past when there was far more equity among the faculty. We need to end the scourge of second-class, adjunct faculty, and return to the days when tuition rates and the proportion of adjuncts were both lower.
Fourth, we need to stop the corporatization of higher education, which is a core problem behind all of these other issues. Running colleges like businesses has had a predictable result: highly-paid CEOs, VPs, and consultants get rich by maximizing their profits through tuition hikes. We need to change the mindset of how colleges are run in order to address the crisis in tuition and student debt.
Cutting the growth in tuition in half is not a difficult goal to reach. It only seems impossible if we continue to treat colleges like businesses and follow the disastrous status quo.