12 November 2009


I enjoy reading Camille Paglia, who is also responsible for the post below this one. Her most recent Salon column viciously attacks Nancy Pelosi, national health care, Hillary Clinton and Richard Dawkins. What's not to like?

And then she says something like this:
What mal-education goes on at killer prices at the elite schools! Skyrocketing tuition costs are legalized piracy. It's a national scandal, which the mainstream media has shamefully neglected. A few weeks ago, I was bemused to discover the bill from my first semester (fall 1964) at Harpur College of the State University of New York at Binghamton. The tuition was $200, which was offset by my state scholarship for that amount. My shared room was $150; linen was $6.50. Board at the cafeteria was $225. The physical education fee was $2, and there was an activity fee of $17.50 and a general college fee of $12.50. The grand total my parents owed for the semester was $413.50 -- for which I received the superb education that is still the basis of my professional life as a teacher and writer. If only the billions upon billions that this country has thrown down the drain in Iraq and Afghanistan had been redirected to education and healthcare!
That someone as smart as Paglia doesn't understand that, not only have we thrown billions (probably trillions) of government dollars at higher education, but that those billions are the reason college costs so much today, is discouraging. Of course, Paglia, like me, feeds at the big ed/governmental trough, which can warp even the smartest observer.


Anonymous said...

Wait a second--are you actually implying that if you dump vast sums of government money into an industry explicitly in order to pump up demand from consumers that you might somehow distort the prices in the market and create a bubble? That's just crazy talk.

Harry Eagar said...

I dunno about that. No study, but I happen to have a factoid to hand, because of my admiration for Rex Tugwell.

As a tenured professor of economics at Columbia in the '30s, he was earning $9,000 a year. (Which he gave up for a government job at about one-third the pay, which, however, he was made whole for later with sinecures like the governorship of Puerto Rico.)

Which is worth more, $9,000 in 1935 or $200,000 (about what the top profs at elite schools make today, with the exception, perhaps, of surgeons) today?

You could buy at least 8 Cadillacs in 1935 for $9,000, but only about 5 on a top prof salary today. (Taxes not taken into account.)

As I noted at Restating the Obvious recently in a post on the same theme, 40 years ago there were 7 veterinary colleges and today there are 28, although the number of animals is about the same.

David said...


First, I'm very happy to note that you woefully underestimate how much Professors at elite (or even non-elite) schools make. At UMass, 175 administrators and professors made $200,000 or more last year, according to the Globe. Thirteen made $400,000 or more.

This is a guesstimate, but average pay for professors is probably between $110,000 and $120,000, but can vary wildly. New business school professors will make about $120,000, more or less regardless of what school they teach at. Tenured English lit professors will make between $50,000 and $75,000, unless they're at the very top schools.

Universities, public or private, fall into the same trap the municipalities fall into. It's relatively easy to get money to build buildings -- donors and politicians both love big visible buildings with their names emblazoned in brass. It's hard to get money to pay the janitors to keep the building clean or the secretaries, clerks or professors to staff them.

Harry Eagar said...

And football coaches make millions.

At the few universities I know about, only a smallish number of medical school professors make outlier salaries.

I think it's hard to find apples to compare with apples. Cow College is a vastly different institution nowadays than it was when I went there 40 years ago. Even the little community college in my county, which was housed in a few old trade school garages 20 years ago, now has gigantic educational factories. And although this one doesn't, the junior college across the street from where my mother lives has a huge industrial infrastructure, including even a zoo.

It also has twice as many students as Cow College did 40 years ago.

Maybe if you compared colleges to colleges -- say, Colorado College today and yesterday -- it was be apples:apples. But universities?

I think they are not remotely similar to what they were.