Do you have a college tuition payment looming? Then you might be interested in the story National Public Radio ran February 21 about college sticker prices, in which reporter Lisa Chow tried to analyze Duke University’s costs per student.

University administrators typically argue that even full-paying students pay only part of the cost of educating them. In Duke’s case, the tuition bill for full-paying students is $60,000, while the university’s executive vice provost says the real cost per student is more like $90,000. In other words, he is saying that even full-paying students are getting a deal, notwithstanding the fact that they are partly subsidizing the 50 percent of Duke undergraduates who don’t pay full fare.

Berkeley emeritus professor Charles Schwartz (whom Ms. Chow interviewed) has been arguing for years that this number is inflated. He says Duke reached the $90,000 by assigning—among other expenses–all the costs of advanced research to undergraduate education, even if the professor has little to do with teaching undergraduates. Many researchers work almost exclusively with graduate students and may have light teaching duties.

Jennifer West, the star Duke research professor interviewed by Ms. Chow, has no courses listed on her university page, but does list three undergraduates as part of her lab team. The cost of recruiting her from Rice was probably enormous, not just due to her own salary, but because she brought some staff with her from Texas and Duke built her a custom lab. Under normal university accounting, Prof. Schwartz says, all of those costs would be included as part of the cost of educating a Duke undergraduate.

Prof. Schwartz is not opposed to assigning some research costs to undergraduates, as there is a benefit, but he believes that since the direct teaching benefit to undergraduates is limited, it should also be limited in the accounting.

Some of Prof. Schwartz’s articles can be found here and here.   



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Katherine Dalton
Katherine Dalton has worked as a magazine editor, freelance feature writer and book editor.  She started in journalism in college, working at The Yale Literary Magazine during most of its controversial few years as a national magazine of opinion based at Yale.  She then worked briefly at Harper's magazine in New York, and more extensively at Chronicles magazine in Illinois, where she was a contributing editor for many years.  She has has written for various publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the University Bookman, and was a contributor to Wendell Berry: Life and Work and Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto.  She lives in her native Kentucky.