No easy explanation for high costs of college

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.

– Voltaire

 

Why does college cost so much?

Why does tuition soar for no apparent reason? Why do required textbooks costs hundreds of dollars?

Last year I actually asked one of our reporters to find the answers.

I told him readers would probably be interested, but I really meant me. Like many of you, for the past several years my wife and I have scrimped and saved and done without to help put our child through a state school.

And like many of you, we have hopes that the end result is a degree that improves his chance at finding a fulfilling job and a rewarding future with some money left over to help buy us a nice room at the retirement home.

We started this effort long ago, building a college fund that had enough cash in it to buy a house.

Needless to say, it wasn’t enough.

Now in our fourth (and hopefully, final) year we are writing checks and asking questions. (“Do they heat the classrooms by burning money?” I ask.)

The reporter – no novice, by the way – came back a week later and said he could find no definitive answer.

The experts, he said, wise sages of academics, answered him in cliches, buzz-phrases and shrugs. They talked about “being competitive” and “national averages” and “research.”

And nobody seemed to have an explanation for $100 textbooks.

I was not surprised because that’s what they always say.

Last week, for example, Georgia’s legislators heard University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby ask for taxpayer money. Huckaby acknowledged the state had raised tuition, but assured the lawmakers, “That is not likely to happen again, and there were some specific circumstances for that.”

Then a lawmaker – probably one with kids in college – wanted some clarity.

“You said there was a unique circumstance there. Could you address that?” asked Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta.

“If we don’t increase pay for our best faculty, we’re going to lose our best faculty,” Huckaby said. “If we lose our best faculty, we’re not going to make our obligation to have an educated and prepared workforce.”

If that sounds familiar, it should. According to The Chronicle’s archives, in 2015 the chancellor said, “We are faced with our most talented faculty having viable options elsewhere.”

He answered pretty much the same way in 2013, telling lawmakers, “Other states don’t come after our weakest faculty. They come after our very best.”

I don’t doubt it.

But maybe it’s time to let a few of these guys go. Free agency can be a wonderful thing. That’s how we do it in the private sector.

We don’t spend that much on textbooks, either.

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Sat, 04/29/2017 - 22:42

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