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Committee Blames Research Costs for Tuition Rises

By Mary Jordan
The Washington Post


Public college tuition soared 141 percent during the 1980s, more than twice the general inflation rate, largely because of administrative bloat and a faculty shift from classroom teaching to costly academic research, according to a congressional report released Monday.

"Among the 100 public colleges where the tuition went up the most, the mount of teaching time went down and the class size went up," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., chairman of the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. "The costs are hidden behind the `magical' field of research where professors are freed up from their classes and given more money for travel, research assistants and laboratories."

Schroeder said state legislatures have gone along with expanded research because it results in higher prestige for their states' systems of higher education. But this increased emphasis on research not only has sent costs skyrocketing, it also has left students sitting in larger classes and has reduced the time they spend with their professors.

College officials disputed these findings of the report, based on a yearlong study, as simplistic. They said the soaring tuition is the result of many factors, including a 13 percent rise in public four-year college enrollment during the 1980s, increasing government regulation and declining federal financial aid to students.

"I think this is someone trying to lash out and justify a particular political position," said James Appleberry, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. He said that government regulation has gotten so onerous that, for instance, colleges have to draw up six different reports on minority hiring in six different ways for six different agencies.

Stacey Leyton, president of the United States Student Association, the nation's largest group representing college students, said the way students see it, tuition is up and services down.

"There is a lot of anger," she said. "In some of the big public colleges, a lot of students don't speak with a professor until junior year because they are sitting in large lectures and all the discussion in the class is with teaching assistants."

Iris Molotsky, spokeswoman for the American Association of University Professors, disputed the congressional committee's findings that the workload for professors declined as salaries rose. But she added, "We all acknowledge that there is an imbalance between research and teaching. It's an area of growing concern."

According to the Department of Education, the annual tuition at public four-year colleges rose 141 percent between 1980 and 1990, from $738 to $1,880. Last fall, the average tuition at public schools was $2,019 for in-state residents and $5,421 for those who lived out of state.

According to the congressional committee, private colleges are raising their tuition for the same reasons as public schools. Among its other findings:

* In the 1980s, tuition soared at the same time that the amount of government aid, endowments and gifts for colleges and universities was rising far faster than the inflation rate.

* In the 1987-88 academic year, the most recent data available, 45 cents of every instructional dollar went toward administration costs. That compares with 27 cents in 1950 and 19 cents in 1930.

* Administrative costs account for the fastest growing component of college expenditures; between 1975 and 1985, the number of people in support positions increased By 60 percent, while full-time faculty grew by 6 percent.

* Because so much emphasis has been put on research, a professor's salary is inversely related to the number of hours he or she teaches. The fewer the hours, the higher the pay, and the more likely more money must be spent on teaching assistants.

* College tuition costs have increased far more than the cost of medical care, housing, food and automobiles.

Richard F. Rosser, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said the report was "very distorted and sensationalist." The answer to why college costs have far outpaced the inflation rate is complex, he said. Colleges have had to add to their administrative staff because the "government wants statistics on crime, graduation rates, even wants us to verify the (military) draft status of students."

Recently, federal aid to students has dropped and colleges have had to offset that, particularly to try to attract poor and minority students.