Rodriguez for Congress campaign
Higher Education Costs

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[September 22, 2016]  Rodriguez Says that Rising Costs of Higher Education Must Be Curtailed - The rising costs of higher education and the ever-expanding burden of college debt are issues that have gained national attention during the 2016 election season.

Several candidates during the presidential primaries advanced plans of how they might alleviate the effects of college debt by permitting individuals to refinance loans while others advocated various measures that might include providing free college education for students at public universities. Interestingly enough, no one seems to be speaking to the root of the problem itself and that is what can government (at both the federal and state levels) do to reduce the costs of higher education? As a career educator, this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and it is one that has troubled me over the years.

Taxpayers at the state and federal level are helping to subsidize the rising costs of higher education, but few might know what exactly they are supporting. We have witnessed a skyrocketing increase in the costs associated with higher education since the early-1980s when federally-backed student loans were made accessible to all who might seek to attain a college or university degree. This infusion of loan money unleashed a torrent of unbridled marketing and expansion as institutions sought to make themselves more appealing to the desires and interests of potential students who were facing a “buyer’s market” of options as to where they might choose to attend. Many institutions lost sight of their primary purpose—providing a quality education—as they began to focus more on special amenities that would make their campuses appealing and suddenly “curb appeal” became more of a quality metric than did graduation rate. All of this came at a cost.

Associated with this frenzy of expansion came an expansion of administrative personnel, often earning high salaries, who fancied themselves as business executives who could manage a more efficient academic mission at these public institutions. We now have state universities that boast a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio, which is admirable, yet try to hide a 9:1 administrator-to-student ratio, which is absurd. To repeat an earlier point, all of this comes at a cost. Several European nations that have found the means to make higher education free have managed to do this by streamlining the educational process to a “bare bones” approach that focuses entirely upon the quality of the education that is being provided and removes the supposedly unnecessary frills from the equation. Any taxpayer in the U.S. should be able to find out what is the percentage costs of administration that is necessary to operate a public university, and they should also be privy to the exact cost of how much it takes for any public university to raise a dollar in development support. These are facts that matter, and we must learn to reward the efficient.

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Federal support to higher educational institutions, outside of grants and other aid that is made available to students, comes in the form of grants-in-aid that are provided to support research efforts by faculty at public universities. In many respects, such grants are the lifeblood of many esteemed institutions of higher education. In general, these awards are based entirely upon the quality of the research proposals that are under consideration, but what if one other factor was considered in making such decisions? How successful an institution remains focused upon its academic mission should be a point of consideration to guarantee that federal grants are not being used to further the bloat of unnecessary expenditures that expand the costs of higher education at public universities. This would also motivate faculty to become passionate advocates of real reform in keeping down the rising costs of higher education.

I believe that there are very real measures that can be taken at the state and federal levels to reduce the costs of higher education, so it would be wise of public institutions to implement such savings of their own volition. If this is done, then it is possible that a combination of state and federal support can be used to fund two-years of a community college education for those citizens who seek to advance their education and training. Just as we have found it necessary in the past to fund K-12 public education to prepare an educated citizenry and workforce, the demands of the twenty-first century economy require a greater skill set, and government must act accordingly.

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