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3 Ways Colleges Are Wasting Your Money


Want to get mad? If you have ever attended or plan to attend college, take a look at a Ted Scheinman’s recent Pacific Standard article, entitled How Colleges Misspend Your Tuition Money. The URL, which includes the phrase “pay for decent teachers, not Dr. Phil,” gives the first hint of what lies ahead. Hint: it’s not a sound investment in teaching staff, but if you’ve talked to any underpaid, untenured adjunct faculty lately, you probably already knew that.


(Photo Credit: _J_D_R_/Flickr)

Colleges, notes Scheinman, are moving away from professors.

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“In their place marches the great academic underclass, the adjuncts or lecturers or other species of contingent labor, who now account for more than half of all post-secondary teaching positions in the country,” he writes.

The use of untenured adjunct faculty is on the rise, and has been for decades. According to a report from the American Association of University Professors, in 1975, 29 percent of instructional staff at colleges and universities were full-time, tenured faculty. By 2009, that number had dropped to 16.8 percent. The shortfall is largely made up with full-time, non-tenure track faculty (10.3 percent in 1975; 15.1 percent in 2009) and part-time faculty (24 percent in 1975; 41.1 percent in 2009).

Meanwhile, of course, the cost of going to college has never been higher. Today, over half of first-time, full-time students take out loans, and the average size of those loans has increased 36 percent in the past 10 years. Many students would probably like to know why they’re paying so much, when their teaching staff apparently isn’t deemed worthy of tenure by the institution that’s cashing their checks.

So where’s the money going instead? A few examples:

1. Raises to administrators, i.e., the people slashing the budgets for full-time faculty.

In 2011, Tamar Lewin at The New York Times reported that presidents at 36 private colleges received annual salaries of $1 million a year or more. The median compensation package was $385,909.

Meanwhile, the median annual salary for an adjunct professor, according to PayScale’s Career Research Center, is $31,773.

2. Consultants.

“The University of Iowa spent over $200,000 this year on a search firm for its new president; University of North Carolina (where I am a teaching fellow, and technically therefore contingent labor) paid $782,000 to a public relations firm after a recent athletics scandal,” Scheinman writes.

3. Celebrity speakers.

Would you rather that your school spent $30,000 on a commencement speaker, or partially fund a tenured faculty member’s salary for year?

“Paying 30 grand for a big-name speaker at a big school, that is not uncommon,” AEI Speakers Bureau president Mark Castel told The New York Times.

The bottom line is that the business of creating competitive universities seems to be undermining the purpose of having universities at all, which is to educate students (and maybe even prepare them for successful careers when they graduate). If schools continue to invest in administrators over academics and public relations gimmicks over education, the situation is likely to get worse instead of better.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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