Creative Loafing Interviews DIY U Author Anya Kamenetz
Posted May 18 2010 7:44am
Higher education is too expensive, and it isn’t good enough. The landscape of information and communication is vastly different from what it was twenty years ago. It’s no exaggeration to say there’s been a revolution in the way information is presented and consumedyet traditional colleges are struggling to keep up and remain relevant. At the same time, the cost of a degree has shot into the stratosphere.
You’ve drawn some comparisons between the rising costs of tuition and the housing bubble. It’s conventional wisdom to (at this point) to say that the housing bubble was caused in part by the unchecked greed of creditors and investors. Would you say that greed is motivating universities, as well?
There’s been huge greed on the part of the student loan industry, the real analogues to the mortgage lenders who drove up the cost of housing. Around the middle of this decade, Sallie Mae was the second most profitable company in the entire Fortune 500. Happily, student lenders have now been squeezed out of the federal student loan industry by the recent Obama reforms, although they can still make money through private, unsubsidized student loans. For-profit, publicly traded higher education companies like the University of Phoenix have been making similarly eye-popping profits, and while their tuition isn’t the highest in the business (private nonprofits like NYU take that honor) their students are among the most indebted.
Earlier this year, video of students rioting in Berkeley was floating all over the internet. Do you think those protests were related to the same problems you’re trying to call attention to? Is there a difference between the rising costs at state schools in comparison to private universities?
Absolutely those protests were part of the same crisis I’m writing about, as students reacted to doors closing and 32% tuition increases in what was once the flagship public university system of the entire world.The Chancellor of the University of California informed me that he’s never seen a meltdown like this in a 40 year career.
The tuition issues at state schools are different from those at privates and for-profits as Jane Wellman at the Delta Cost Project points out nicely. State support for public higher education has largely been declining per capita for 25 years and state schools have practiced “cost shifting” by increasing tuition to make up the difference.