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College is too expensive—and it’s not hard to see why

Universities are spending a lot of money at the cost of a lot of education

The University of California is jacking up its tuition at exactly the same time that it is facing a massive pension liability. Indeed, the numbers are large enough to be almost comical: over 5,400 retired UC employees receive pensions in excess of $100,000. That’s, at minimum, over half a billion dollars spent just paying people to not work. Some of the actual pensions defy logic: a UC president put in seven years of work, retired, and now receives $357,000 yearly from the school.

The cost of attending college has increased over a thousandfold—literally over one thousand percent—since the late 1970s. There are a whole host of reasons why. Part of it is staffing costs; colleges are not only paying a great many faculty members a great deal of money (many of them retired!), they are also shelling out cash for veritable armies of administrators and staff, the numbers of which have nearly doubled over the last few decades. Part of the problem also lies in the astronomical increase in government student loans, which invariably drive up tuition costs. Still another aspect of the problem can be found in colleges’ lavish spending on student amenities—luxury dorms, expensive gyms, other unnecessarily costly conveniences and facilities.

Surely all of these things have their upsides: campuses become luxurious, accessible job machines for students, faculty and staff. The downside, however, is readily apparent: college gets more expensive, students go more in debt, taxpayers are on the hook for billions of unnecessary dollars a year. There are trade-offs to every exchange. But there is something deeply unseemly about public institutions sucking up such enormous amounts of cash for the sake of expenses that are so obviously avoidable.

Making college as affordable as it once was will not be an easy task; it will require a long, ugly fight, one that many campus administrations may not be up for (if they’re even interested in it at all). It defies easy solutions. One place to start, however, is this: universities should give a lot of thought to not plunking down staggering sums of money to pay people who are not working. There are a whole host of ways to cut down on this spending: not hiring so many faculty and staff, for instance, and also not promising them such gilded retirement packages. Colleges need to focus on educating, not employing; the latter is surely a function of the former, but it should not be subservient to it. Universities are ultimately supposed to be places of learning, not spending. Surely most administrative officials can figure out how to tell the difference.

MORE: Private college spending on ‘student services’ more than doubles, ‘public service’ money falls

MORE: Public University Hikes Tuition, Meanwhile Spending $400,000 To Relocate One Tree

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