Acton Institute Powerblog

Causes of Increasing Tuition

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Harvey Silverglate on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) blog, The Torch, passes on one explanation for why college tuition costs have been increasing at double digit rates for years on end. He writes in part:

Alan Charles Kors and I posited one answer to the seeming puzzle in our book The Shadow University. We noted the extraordinary increase in administrative staff on the student life side of colleges and universities. We attributed this in large measure to the vast increase in the university’s control over and interference in students’ non-academic lives, under the rubric of the university’s resurgent in loco parentis role. This development, commencing in the 1980s, coincided with the entrenchment of the notion that students in the newly diversified American university could not learn to get along without administrative micro-management, “sensitivity training,” imposition of forced “civility” with the aid of speech codes, and other such devices seeking to avoid “offense” being inflicted upon, or at least felt by, students, particularly those in “historically disadvantaged” groups. These vast new armies of student life administrators were seen as necessary, too, to protect universities from liability under new anti-harassment legislation and regulations—or so it seemed to timid administrators and the general counsel who advise them. The result has been an academic culture as sterile as it is oppressive.

This corresponds with a move away from education (properly understood) in favor of indoctrination.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • J Taylor

    Uhmmmm….. no. That’s probably not the whole story.

    There has been a tremendous amount of support for the theory regarding the escalation of college costs due to administrative costs. I wouldn’t argue that administrative costs don’t play into the matter at all, but the fact is, the government has been, over the last 30 years or so, shifting the burden of higher education on to families.

    The federal government would say otherwise, and one could expect a bit of CYA from politicians. Ergo, dispense with the government reports as much as possible when doing your research. For every government report out there that says government funding of public schools has never been higher, there’s another reliable report that points to numerous cuts (or attempted cuts) in the budget, federal and state, that directly affects colleges. Just cruise the internet.

    In the late 1970s, students paid around 36% percent of the total cost of a college education, the federal government 12%, and state governments contributed the rest (mostly in the form of direct funding for public universities). Today, the family contribution is around 50% and the federal government 10%. And although states can argue that they are spending more dollars on higher education today, the real value of spending per full-time student actually has fallen. Since 1978, higher education appropriations have fallen from 7.5% of state spending to barely 5%, despite a nearly 20% rise in enrollment at public institutions. More kids want – and need – a higher education than ever before.

    And please, if you’re going to pick on college programs, at least pick on one that does the least amount of academic good. Like football. Or basketball. As a former college instructor and a current small business owner who has worked with college students across several states, I can tell you that not one student (or college instructor) has complained to me of oppression due to diversity or sensitivity training. What they feel oppressed by is the ability of someone on an athletic scholarship being allowed to skate through college without having to put forth much effort or money – because they can chase a ball well.