Miscalculations of Student Living Costs, Their Impact on Financial Aid, and What They Suggest about Our Institutional Priorities

The following paragraphs are taken from an article that Jill Barshay contributed to the Hechinger Report on June 1:

“A team of academic researchers found that one third of colleges and universities underestimated actual living expenses by more than $3,000. Another 11 percent of schools overestimated by more than $3,000. In other words, almost half get it wrong by a big margin. . . .

“The research is part of an ongoing series of papers, the most recent one delivered on May 27, 2015 at the Association for Institutional Research Annual Forum in Denver, Colorado. An earlier version of this research, titled  “The Costs of College Attendance: Trends, Variation, and Accuracy in Institutional Living Cost Allowances,” was presented at the annual meeting of the Association of Public Policy and Management in October 2014.

“Calculating living costs properly is more than a matter of academic debate. Students who go to schools with higher estimated living costs can receive more in financial aid and scholarships. At a four-year public university, living costs add up to almost 60 percent of the total cost of attendance, on average. At a two-year community college, they account for more than 70 percent. (The rest is tuition, fees and books.)”

Given the implications for students—the impact on the amount of financial aid that they receive and the amount of student debt that they accumulate—this would seem one of those very basic things that colleges and universities would seemingly want to get right.

Moreover, as my ongoing series on the increase in administrative positions and administrative support staff over the past two decades shows very clearly, there should be no shortage of staff to accomplish this basic task at most institutions.

So how does one account for so many institutions getting this very basic calculation so wrong? I would like to suggest that this is another example of misplaced priorities. For all of the rhetoric about the primacy of instruction, the emphasis on student success, and the necessity of providing high quality education as cost-effectively as possible, most of our institutional bureaucracies are now simply more preoccupied with self-perpetuation and self-aggrandizement than with meeting those goals.

Jill Barshay’s article is titled “Underestimating the True Costs of College,” and the complete article is available at: http://hechingerreport.org/underestimating-the-true-cost-of-college/.

 

 

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