College Groups Score Flawed E.D. Study

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

Copyright 1987 Washington--In the latest round in the ongoing debate between the Education Department and higher-education groups, college officials have asked the department to scrap what they call a "fatally flawed" study concluding that educating a student at a private college is 54 percent more costly than at a state-supported institution.

Arguing that the conclusion is based on faulty methodology, officials from a number of higher-education associations denounced the as-yet-unreleased study at a press conference here last month. They charged that the document was politically motivated and said it could divide the higher-education community and turn public opinion against aid for private colleges.

"This is a shoddy and poor piece of work, and it should never see the light of day," said Richard F. Rosser, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. "This is one more example of what has got to be a blatant political attack on independent colleges and universities."

Mr. Rosser added that studies in Washington State and New York State had found that the costs of educating students in similar institutions are similar. While he said he welcomed a national study of the issue, he added that it should be conducted in a more valid way.

But Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary of education for educational research and improvement, called the association's actions "paranoid" and "possibly unethical," and he denied any political motivation in releasing the report.

"We are publishing [critical] comments along with the paper," he said. "That's not something you do if you want to escape criticism or score political points."

Mr. Finn acknowledged that the study was imperfect, but said that such imperfections are typical in a research work of the kind.

"The paper is an academic exercise, designed to be the first cut on a complicated issue," he said. "It's not a slick, glossy policy statement."

The study, "Estimating the Cost of a Bachelor's Degree: An Institutional Cost Analysis," was prepared by Duc-Le To, a research associate at oeri

It notes that the issue of college costs has become increasingly sensitive over the past few years, as tuitions, which pay for a fraction of the cost of education, have risen faster than inflation.

As if to underscore that point, the College Board announced last month that college tuitions and fees are expected to rise this year by between 5 percent and 8 percent over last year's levels. (See related table on page 5.)

The department's study concludes that the average cost of a bachelor's degree in 1983 was $24,713. But it notes that the cost differs according to type of institution. At private institutions, the average cost of a college education was $28,386, while at public institutions it was $18,474.

The college officials argued that the study's methodology skewed the results. For example, according to Elaine El-Khawas, the American Council on Education's vice president for policy analysis and research, the study, in calculating the average cost per student, makes no allowance for attrition, which is much higher in public institutions.

In addition, said Robert Zemsky, director of the Institute for Research on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania, the study counts student financial aid as an expenditure, rather than as revenue.

Such "double bookkeeping" makes private colleges appear more expensive than they are, since they tend to provide more institutional aid than state-supported colleges with lower tuition rates, he said.

Mr. Zemsky, who was one of 11 reviewers hired by the department to oversee the study, added that several expenditures, such as employee fringe benefits, are paid by state governments in many public institutions. Thus, he said, "it appears that the way to make colleges more efficient is to give them state subsidies."

Mr. To, in a written rejoinder to his critics, said further research was needed to determine the true cost of a bachelor's degree.

"I was surprised that this paper was interpreted as providing conclusive answers to policymakers," Mr. To wrote. "It was, indeed, only intended to stimulate discussion and research on the subject, and to some degree, that goal appears to have been achieved."

Vol. 07, Issue 01

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

To Address Chronic Absenteeism, Dig into the Data

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Keep Your Schools Safe and Responsive to Real Challenges

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

3 Unique Learner Profiles for Emerging Bilinguals

Effective Questioning Practices to Spur Thinking

Empower Reading Teachers with Proven Literacy PD

Dyslexia: How to Identify Warning Signs at Every Grade

Increased Social Connectedness Through Digital Peer Learning

Student Engagement Lessons from 3 Successful Districts

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >