Tuitions increasing, student debt rising and universities becoming less and less accessible is a common sight nowadays. One of the most often cited reasons for increasing prices is the decreasing amount of funding coming from governments. For state schools, the limited pool of resources provided by the state causes universities to seek funding through alternate means, the primary one being tuition. College is more expensive than ever, but is government funding really the main reason to blame?
Tuition at the University of Arizona, a state school, has increased $4,217 for residents since 2011 from around $8,250 to $12,367, according to UA Statistics. This narrative of reliance on state funding can distract from the spending habits of universities and the real amount of resources they actually hold while shifting blame towards state governments and guilt away from schools. One explanation is that the demand for college has steadily increased over the years causing prices to rise. Around 19.9 million students have been estimated to enroll in fall 2019, compared to 15.3 million in 2000, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The sheer number of students in undergraduate enrollment has increased by almost 5,000 according to UA enrollment data. Combined with students’ usage of loans, especially federal aid, universities may be led to increase costs if they know that there is a support net that will pay the fees, similar to healthcare. Although this doesn’t mean aid should stop, it instead calls for more action regarding costs and ending profiting from debt by universities.
Another issue regarding student enrollment increasing is the hiring of faculty. According to U.S. News, the UA has a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio, maintaining a low number of students per faculty member. This means that increasing funds must be put toward the hiring and payment of faculty. It isn’t always so clear cut though, with the growing experience of precarity in academics as adjunct lecturers are hired in favor of tenure track positions.
While many of these factors do hold significant sway in university costs, there are also still large amounts of funding funneled into athletics, non-academic resources and the salaries of those at the top of the university. Analysis and discussion of university spending policies and where it’s headed is required in examining the costs of higher education. While state funding is still essential to explaining risings costs, the question of what the university would do with that funding if presented with it is also integral to the story of university costs.
Pushing for more state funding is important when considering affordable college, but it isn’t the entire picture. Since tuitions are increasingly becoming the primary means for schools to gain funding, this double-edged sword has led to a necessity for attracting more enrollments and employing tactics to obtain funding from students. International students are increasingly scouted and universities are displayed as hubs of social life, selling an experience rather than academics to attract non-resident students and maintain gaps in funding, often hurting those faced with the necessity of attending university to better enter the economy. Examining why university funding is changing and how schools are attempting to close the gaps, often through high tuitions and attracting those who will pay them, is essential to discussing the fundamental place a university holds in society.
Nathan Gosnell is a senior majoring in East Asian Studies: Japanese Language and minoring is political science.