College cost, enrollment decline are systemic problems


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

Recent reports confirm many colleges across the country are having difficulty enrolling a sufficient number of students.

A Sept. 18 survey done by Gallup in conjunction with Inside Higher Education found 61 percent of surveyed colleges had not met the May 1 deadline for full class enrollment. All but 5 percent of the college directors surveyed had concerns about enrollment goals.

The problem extends to some smaller schools in the UNC system, specifically several historically black universities, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

This trend of declining enrollment fits in well with other trends, particularly the rise in tuition and increased student loan debt.

In North Carolina, tuition has risen about 35 percent since 2008, and there are many other states that have seen even more dramatic increases, according to the College Board.

The barriers to access of higher education have prompted numerous negative results. Many individuals have begun to question the value of a college education, given the high cost and the perception that college graduates only fair slightly better in the job market.

One could point to a number of factors behind the cost, but it is clear the problem is systemic, and addressing it will require an examination of numerous costs.

The well-documented rise of administrators at universities has been one such contributing factor. Over the past several decades, the rate of administrative growth has been staggering, with universities collectively adding 517,636 administrative positions between 1987 and 2012, according to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

This development has contributed not only to higher costs, but also the redefinition of higher education. Increasing the number of administrators naturally leads to an increase in costs, and therefore higher tuitions.

Administrative growth is certainly not the only cause of heightened tuition. Other contributing factors, such reduced support for education from state governments and the public also play a role. The larger point is that it is the whole higher education system that needs to be looked at and not just small, isolated parts of it.

Now it is more important than ever that this problem be taken seriously. Decisions about access to college affect the lives of so many people, from those who cannot obtain access to those struggling with student loan debt.

As difficult as things are – even for college graduates – education remains important both as an end in itself and as a means for advancement. Addressing the enormous problem of cost and access, and the effects of these factors on enrollment, needs to be treated as a much more urgent priority.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.