At the University of Washington, President Michael Young earns more than $800,000 annually in a total compensation package. Not bad at all for perhaps the highest paid public official in all of Washington state. He lives in a mansion, and his contract is loaded with perks and “incentives.” All of those details can be found in a University of Washington press release on his contract made public in May. The cheerleading for Young, by the UW, focussed on his purported skills as a political operative and fund-raiser, not on his cost to students and taxpayers. Young is apparently edging out his competitor at Washington State University, President Elson Floyd. According to an article by Benjamin Ginsberg in the September/October 2011 edition of Washington Monthly, Floyd “accepted a $125,000 pay raise, bringing his 2009 salary to $725,000 per year, soon after announcing that financial circumstances required the school to freeze hiring.” Together these guys account for more than $1.5 million in salaries. Is any public university head really worth this kind of money? How exactly are indebted students served by such largesse? What “deliverables” do either of these men provide to merit this kind of public payout?

Washington Monthly examines this issue  on why administrations have become bloated, while not improving instruction. The waste is not limited to overheated senior salaries, but in all forms of administrative positions that gobble up student tuition and state support. The article notes: “Today, administrators and staffers safely outnumber full-time faculty members on campus. In 2005, colleges and universities employed more than 675,000 fulltime faculty members or full-time equivalents. In the same year, America’s colleges and universities employed more than 190,000 individuals classified by the federal government as “executive, administrative and managerial employees.” Another 566,405 college and university employees were classified as “other professional.” This category includes IT specialists, counselors, auditors, accountants, admissions officers, development officers, alumni relations officials, human resources staffers, editors and writers for school publications, attorneys, and a slew of others. These “other professionals” are not administrators, but they work for the administration and serve as its arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouthpieces.”


Is higher ed a waste of money? Well, many Americans say it is, despite contradictions. The Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority—75%—says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. Still, a majority of college graduates—86%—say that college has been a good investment for them personally. Go to: http://pewsocialtrends.org/2011/05/15/is-college-worth-it/#about.

What’s more, a report by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and Public Agenda showed the public is increasingly skeptical of the business model that now permeates the higher ed system that is leaving millions of Americans saddled in excessive debt. The study found that six out of 10 Americans now say that colleges today operate more like a business, focused more on the bottom line than on the educational experience of students. Further, the number of people who feel this way has increased by five percentage points in the last year alone and is up by eight percentage points since 2007.  Go to: http://www.highereducation.org/reports/squeeze_play_10/squeeze_play_10.pdf.

Meanwhile tuitions go up and up, along with salaries of senior university administrators. My tuition this fall goes up 10%, and as far as I can tell, there will not be a 10% improvement in programming or services. This far outstrips inflation amid the greatest economic downturn since the depression.

It is truly an odd occurrence when the News Corp. owned Wall Street Journal basically agrees with http://www.alternet.org about the impact of rising student debt. Alternet describes the forces that have turned students into docile lap dogs. What’s No. 1 on the list? In their words: “1. Student-Loan Debt. Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force. ” Alternet notes: “Today in the United States, two-thirds of graduating seniors at four-year colleges have student-loan debt, including over 62 percent of public university graduates. While average undergraduate debt is close to $25,000, I increasingly talk to college graduates with closer to $100,000 in student-loan debt.” So no student activism. No force for change. No protesting on campuses when unaccountable and powerfully connected Boards of Regents raise tuition 10% for some graduate students like me at the University of Washington School of Public Health or 20% on undergraduates. When I asked my fellow students at the UW School of Public Health to at least voice concern over rising tuition, no one, as far as I could see, bothered to write or say a thing in a public manner that demonstrated group action or even shared messaging. It was terribly depressing to see not even a peep. I was even invited to a “coffee meeting” to discuss my “emails” by a faculty member — a hint that too much protest was not welcomed. Had there been a unified voice, administrators might actually realize that their decisions are shackling students with debt that grows like a cancer on the loan principal. But no, the students were as quiet as sheep. I would agree with Alternet. Fear has completely pacified the few graduate students I know. It works.

This is a portion of a July 6, 2011, letter I sent to Dr. Howard Frumkin, Dean of the prestigious University of Washington School of Public Health, concerning the UW Board of Regents’ decision on June 30 to raise tuition at the UW SPH by 10 percent for in state and out of state residents/students. This letter contains nothing proprietary. It is mostly open-source information that is compiled from data available to anyone, with the exception of results from a survey, which from what I can tell is truly not a privately held document but a document meant to be shared with all SPH stakeholders, including myself, a full-paying student. So I feel it is entirely appropriate that this information be shared. (Note, I have deleted part of my introduction to the Dean.)

It may be oddly coincidental that the Board of Regents’ decision to hike tuition 10% for UW MPH students on June 30 (http://www.washington.edu/admin/pb/home/pdf/tuition/2011-12-FINAL-Tuition-Appr-by-BoR-06-30-11.pdf) highlights perhaps the main finding of the SPH survey. As I read it, the survey found that the top result of all issues facing the school is money. However, I’m not clear if “funding challenges” means the same thing to students as opposed to faculty/researchers/former students. But it tops the list of all priorities that were selected to choose from. The survey noted:
There are three issues facing the School that were selected as priorities by at least a third of respondents:
-57% (355) selected “Addressing funding challenges.”
-47% (296) selected “Strengthening interdisciplinary connections between the School and other
UW schools and departments.”
-37% (229) selected “Enhance educational focus and improve curriculum.”
Making matters worse, the Legislature this year voted away its elected authority to raise tuition to the unelected, and thus not truly accountable, Board of Regents, who wasted no time raising undergraduate tuition to record levels, according to media reports. The 10% MPH hike is another step in a dangerous trend to an unsustainable tuition bubble (10% is more than the current inflation level, and certainly more than the returns on any investments I have or likely anyone outside of Wall Street has). The implications of ever-rising tuition rates and the cost for a UW MPH degree, and the fiscal burdens (which also are stress burdens and thus health burdens) it places on current and future students, needs to be addressed in a meaningful way by all levels at the School of Public Health.
I for one spent nearly $30,000 last year, inclusive of modest student health insurance that doesn’t cover my basic health needs that well. At the UW, the 10-year period through 2010-11 shows tuition increases for in-state and out of state students (Tier III) rising from a low of 2.9% to a high of 18.8% (for in-state Tier III) and 3.0% to 9.3% (for out-of-state Tier III). Increases have come every year. The forthcoming 10% hike is certainly on the higher end of all of the annual tuition increases since year 2000 for in- and out-of-state residents, with the 18.8% (in 2002-3, right after the last major recession in 2001-02) being a possible outlier to all of the annual tuition hikes. (See the historic trends here: http://www.washington.edu/admin/pb/home/pdf/tuition/2009-10-tf-history.pdf.)
Many credible sources note that the the cost of higher education nationally has risen more than 400% in the last 25 years (see below), which for many older SPH faculty members may be the period they have been employed at the UW or other universities. So it may be difficult to grasp fully the serious implications of these costs on the students themselves, especially those with debt burdens from their undergraduate programs. What’s more, I think this perspective of costs relative over time should be kept in mind, as much as simply comparing the current cost of the UW to say UNC-CH or U Minn. All of these schools are participating in the tuition bubble that is squeezing future and current students. History shows that all bubbles pop, usually with terrible consequences for those with the least means.
Any strategic plan has to realistically address this bubble. It likely keeps away lower income students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have to look at the prospects of a contracting job market, high tuition, and no promise of any employment funding, and who then decide to pursue opportunities elsewhere. In the survey I spelled out what this means for promoting diversity in the student body. I think the data is very clear who will lose in this game. Much of this post duplicates information I have shared with some COPHP faculty. This is the great challenge. How will the SPH rise to the occasion? What will it do? Who will step up and lead?
Universities On The Brink
Louis E. Lataif, 02.01.11, 01:30 PM EST
The ever-increasing cost of education is not sustainable.
Higher education in America, historically the envy of the world, is rapidly growing out of reach. For the past quarter-century, the cost of higher education has grown 440%, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Education, nearly four times the rate of inflation and double the rate of health care cost increases. The cost increases have occurred at both public and private colleges. Like many situations too good to be true–like the dot-com boom, the Enron bubble, the housing boom or the health care cost explosion–the ever-increasing cost of university education is not sustainable.
Drowning in Debt: The Emerging Student Loan Crisis
Kevin Carey and Erin Dillon | July 8, 2009
“Higher education has never been more expensive. The price of attending a public university doubled, after inflation, over the last two decades, and family income and student financial aid haven’t kept pace. As a result, students have no choice but to borrow, and more college students are borrowing more money than ever before.”
Academic inflation
Higher education
Sep 2nd 2010
Galloping inflation in American college fees
FOR decades, college fees have risen faster than Americans’ ability to pay them. Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13 (a year in the Ivy League will set you back $38,000, excluding bed and board).

In light of the University of Washington’s recent financial aid statement to me, it’s no surprise that media have been covering this debt bubble for some time. Here’s some coverage from 2010, when it was reported student loan debt surpassed credit card debt. That is truly a remarkable milestone in American finance.



AUGUST 9, 2010, 1:13 PM ET

Student-Loan Debt Surpasses Credit Cards

By Mary Pilon

Consumers now owe more on their student loans than their credit cards.

Americans owe some $826.5 billion in revolving credit, according to June 2010 figures from theFederal Reserve. (Most of revolving credit is credit-card debt.) Student loans outstanding today — both federal and private — total some $829.785 billion, according to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com.

“The growth in education debt outstanding is like cooking a lobster,” Mr. Kantrowitz says. “The increase in total student debt occurs slowly but steadily, so by the time you notice that the water is boiling, you’re already cooked.”

By his math, there is $605.6 billion in federal student loans outstanding and $167.8 billion in private student loans outstanding. He estimates that $300 billion in federal student loan debts have been incurred in the last four years.

This is my first post on a blog that I will update periodically concerning the many facets of the higher education bubble that is creating an unsustainable model of educating our future workers and leaders and leaving an entire generation in crushing debt. As all economists note, all bubbles burst, and we are in the midst of a historic pricing bubble within the higher education sector that can charge students now more than $50,000 a year at prestigious schools for a single year of education. As a second year student at the University of Washington School of Public Health, I just came off my first year as an out of state student, and spent more $30,000 on tuition and a meager health insurance plan. That does not count books, rent, food, bills, other insurance, and other expenses. I should qualify for in-state residency next year, which will drop my costs for tuition and the same meager insurance plan to more than $18,000.

I have tried to explain what this reality means to my faculty and even to the Dean of the School of Public Health. In my personal opinion, the faculty and the administration do not fully understand the realities of the business model that is being used by large, elite universities like the University of Washington to price students into a lifetime of indentured servitude–meaning owing debt to lending institutions to be paid back over decades with interest often exceeding the principal before a promissory note is paid in full. Here is what my recently received UW financial aid statement for 2011-12 noted my costs would be, were I to be an out of state student at the UW School of Public Health this year. And this lowballs the cost of room and board for Seattle and does not include nearly $2,800 for health insurance (the critical safety net all of us need and are educated about daily at the School of Public Health):

Cost Description Cost Amount

Estimated Tuition and Fees $29,510

Books and Supplies $1,206

Room and Board $13,812

Personal Expenses $2,265

Transportation $1,524

Total Cost of Attendance   $48,317