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The Truth Behind College Cost Myths

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By Katherine Long

college_costs(1)(MCT)—Whenever we write about how much it costs to go to college, we hear from a lot of readers.

Some are sympathetic toward students (and their tuition­-paying parents), and think tuition costs are out of control.

But others are dismissive of the whole issue. Why don’t students just go to community college, they wonder. Why should the state pay anything toward higher education? Why are college presidents so richly rewarded, and can’t these schools do a better job of managing their money?

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate blocked a bill that would have allowed some students to refinance their college loans. Critics say it would cost taxpayers too much. And some questioned why students were taking out such big loans in the first place.

Here’s a look at some frequently expressed sentiments and questions about college—why it costs so much, and what’s behind escalating levels of student debt.

QUESTION: Aren’t college costs going up because of bloated administrative costs and highly paid college presidents?

ANSWER: A recent report by the Delta Cost Project did find that at universities across the nation, the compensation costs for employees are rising steadily, and there’s a widespread increase in the number of administrative jobs.

But most of the increase was at private colleges, for jobs that provide non-instructional student services—like counseling, admissions, financial and athletics. And a big chunk of the compensation increase was due to rising health­care costs and retirement contributions.

Overall, public research universities and community colleges average 16 fewer employees per 1,000 fulltime students than they did in 2000. The report did not look at specific universities.

University of Washington President Michael Young makes $570,000 a year, and he’ll be eligible for a deferred compensation payment of nearly $1 million in a few more years. He’s the 19th highest-­paid public college president in the country.

It’s worth knowing, though, that he is the CEO of the third­-largest nonmilitary employer in Washington—an institution with a $6 billion budget, four hospitals, $1.25 billion in research funding, and 30,000 employees. He makes more than Gov. Jay Inslee ($166,000), but less than UW head football coach Chris Petersen ($3.2 million—a salary paid for primarily by football ticket sales).

Hundreds of UW employees make more than $250,000 a year. Why? The UW says the salaries of 80 percent of its 100 highest-paid employees are paid through federal research grants or athletic funds. About 70 percent work in health sciences, and some of the highest paid include neurosurgeons and cardiologists who teach medicine, see patients at UW Medical Center and also receive federal research money.

Q: Why don’t more students start by enrolling in a community college?

A: Community-college classes are often much smaller than at a public four­-year university. With yearly tuition of about $4,000, and agreements that make it easier to transfer credits to an in-­state university, it’s a very good way to cut costs.

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