Education

Cavazos Urges College Officials To Stem Tuition Rates

By Mark Pitsch — December 05, 1990 4 min read
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WASHINGTON--Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week called on higher-education officials to help stem the further escalation of tuition rates by controlling administrative costs and trimming underused academic programs.

Failure to do so, he said, could price some students and families out of the higher-education market.

“If a college education is to remain within the reach of all families, schools must control costs,” said Mr. Cavazos, a former president of Texas Tech University. “It’s now time for individual colleges and universities to ask questions, set limits, and start making tough choices about what they can and cannot accomplish.”

Because administrative expenditures--now typically about one-fourth of a school’s budget--are among the fastest rising on the nation’s campuses and were targeted by college-finance officials as having a strong influence on tuition increases, Mr. Cavazos said colleges and universities are obliged to shave some of those expenses.

For example, he said, underenrolled academic departments could be eliminated or two nearby institutions could consolidate their libraries.

“Colleges and universities need not--and must not--try to do everything,” Mr. Cavazos said. “Instead, each institution must determine its mission and make the necessary trade-offs.”

The Secretary made the remarks at a news conference here to mark the release of three Congressionally mandated studies on the cost of higher education.

The studies confirm previous research that tuition rose dramatically during the 1980’s, and at a rate exceeding that of inflation.

But they also report on a survey of college and university finance officials as to why costs have risen so much during the last decade, and point to ways those officials can help contain costs.

Mr. Cavazos said he has begun addressing college costs and pricing because of his agency’s mandate to “ensure equal educational opportunity, including access to higher education.”

One study, “The Escalating Costs of Higher Education,” concludes that there is no single or dominant reason for rising tuition and costs.

Rather, it says, a number of factors are to blame, including rising faculty salaries (which still have not approached the purchasing power they had in the early 1970’s); increases in the proportion of administrative expenses in schools’ budgets; and state appropriations that rose at a lower rate (17 percent) than did tuition at public universities (37 percent) between 1975 and 1985.

Tuition rose during the 1980’s in part to cover greater expenditures and in part because of students’ and parents’ willingness to pay more for higher education, the study says.

The study warns that although it is difficult to predict how tuition will rise in the future, a number of factors could affect the cost of higher education in the next century. Among them are a continued decline in the number of college-age students between 1990 and 1995; a downturn in the economy, which could dampen state appropriations; and fluctuations in the availability of financial aid.

A second report, “The Finances of Higher Education Institutions,” shows that four-fifths of the finance officers surveyed said that their schools controlled expenditures well. Half of the officials felt the same way about their schools’ ability to obtain revenues.

The third study, “Tough Choices: A Guide to Administrative Cost Management in Colleges and Universities,” in which the Secretary encourages school administrators to conduct comprehensive cost studies, will be sent to more than 3,000 college and university presidents.

While Mr. Cavazos urged higher-education officials to trim costs to ensure the affordability of college, he said higher education today remains affordable, especially with the availability of student financial aid.

He cited a recent College Board report showing that the average tuition at four-year public colleges was $1,800 for the 1990-91 academic year. The comparative private-school figure was $9,400.

Half of all undergraduates attend schools with tuitions of less than $2,000, he said, while only 10 percent go to schools where tuitions cost more than $10,000.

Student financial aid assists about one-half of all undergraduates, Mr. Cavazos said. But the “Escalating Costs” report notes that total financial aid grew in real terms by only 7 percent between the 1980-81 and 1987-88 school years, while college tuitions increased 27 percent in real terms during that period.

Mr. Cavazos cited other studies showing that the public greatly overestimates higher-education costs.

“Such misperceptions may discourage students and families who are trying to prepare for college,” he said. “They may think that the situation is hopeless, that they will not be able to afford a college education. The reality is that with a little planning, virtually every family--including those in the low- and middle-income range--can afford college.”

The department is preparing a guide for parents that will contain information on student-aid programs and how to finance a college education. In addition, Leonard L. Haynes 3d, assistant secretary for postsecondary education, called counseling at the high-school level and earlier the “Achilles heel” of student aid.

The department also announced it will soon publish a set of papers on college and university costs.

Copies of the three studies are available from the U.S. Education Department, OPBE, Room 4049, 400 Maryland Ave., S.W., Washington, D.C. 20202-4110.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 05, 1990 edition of Education Week as Cavazos Urges College Officials To Stem Tuition Rates

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