What, you thought I was talking about the “Greenies” again?
The cost of tuition and fees (sans living expenses and other non-instructional related costs) at our University is $43,926 for the current academic year. A full load of courses for our students is 8 courses per year, amounting to $5,490.75 paid per class per year. For those of you inclined to think that there is a higher education bubble (I’m not there yet, because I don’t believe that students are buying higher education, but something else. So calling it a higher education bubble would be like calling the current boom in flat-panel TV sales a bubble), consider the following.
Across the five courses I taught this year (ranging from Freshmen econ to an upper-level seminar), I have approximately 650 students, not including my Teaching Assistants, Independent Study students and internship sponsorships. So my average class size was about 130 students. This is admittedly much larger than the average class size at my university, which is likely closer to 25 (universitites typically play games with the way it is computed, so don’t trust reported average class size statistics). But take my example as an illustration, remembering that I may be an awful teacher but one thing I have never been honestly accused of is not being available to our students. My goal as a professor is to make those classes of 130 work more like a class of 20 would. And I think this is possible for the time being.
At an expenditure of $5,490.75 per student, then each class I teach generates $713,797 in tuition-fee revenues. I hope it is clear that such revenues far exceed the fully-loaded costs of employing me. If you add up the cost of my salary, benefits, implied cost of my office space, materials and technology usage and my share of the facilities on campus, you might find your way to saying I cost $150,000 for the university.
If I were the Marxist like I am supposed to be, I would be screaming right now that the U of R is exploiting me as slave labor to the tune of over a half-million per class per year (remember I teach at least 5 classes, so really I am being exploited to the tune of two-and-a-half million). But that is not my objective. It is simply this. What do you think the students are getting for this expenditure? I try to do a great job on my classes, but there are clearly much better classes offered by professors at other schools. Ignoring that, where does the remaining $563,000 that is being spent in my class go? Even if you assume the university chooses to “rebate” half of that in the form of student scholarships and grants, that still means that over $280,000 is being spent per course, in fact well more than this since all of my expenses can be paid out of a portion of just one course’s revenues. So, just about twice as many resources are being consumed by the university on things other than me the instructor for each of the classes I teach, in fact in my case this is an understatement.
Where does it all go?
Do students and parents think they are getting $280,000 per class of value outside of what I am doing for them? How do I feel about all of this? Does it impact what and how I teach?
How sustainable is the spending on all of those resources?
In future posts I hope to explore some of them. Of course there are some necessary administrative expenses that are helpful to running a university, particularly record keeping for grades, and staffing an admissions office, etc. But remember those costs are being spread over the thousands of courses we offer. A substantial portion of that $280,000 per class remains to be explained. And yes, the typical class sizes are smaller than mine, but that too is part of the point we will ultimately make.
Just think of that. $5,490.75 per course. Each course is 28 meetings since most professors prefer to teach only two days a week. Some professors give two midterms, in-class of course, during the term. And my guess is that on average one full class is wasted on going over the syllabus and other administrative items or even outright cancelled because the professor has other commitments for that particular day. So my estimate is that on average students get 25 classes in a full course. They usually choose the skip the one near breaks too, but ignore that for now. So, students and their families are paying $219.63 for each lecture that is actually delivered to the student. Would any of you pay $219.63 to attend one of my lectures, chosen at random? I wouldn’t.