Then and now.

The Daily Tar Heel take the lay of the tuition landscape.

There’s an interesting graphic that compares tuition as a percentage of median household income (should it be household?) since 1980. This has gone from just under 4% in 1980 to just over 15% in 2010. That’s a clear demonstration of how much of a budget-busting burden higher education is becoming.

But let’s put this in perspective.

Here’s a 2008 Board of Trustees Audit and Finance Committee report on the Instruction Expenses per Student. The adjusted cost is  $16,876 ($24,548 unadjusted). Tuition in 1980 was $793 dollars for in-state students. I know resident students never pay the full cost of their education,  but we’re looking at a 2008 adjusted instruction expenses per student figure that is 2,128% greater than tuition 30 years ago. It’s a 258% premium today.

(Please don’t talk about adjusting for inflation or anything else. This is cursory and I’m aware of what a robust analysis looks like. First approximation, this is)

I don’t even know what goes into the instructional expenses calculation. Disturbingly, I expect it doesn’t include the elaborate facilities we have today that we didn’t have 30 years ago. And this also isn’t even accounting for the relentless creeping of student fee expenses.

Board of Governors member Hannah Gage refers to the Academic-Industrial Complex.

The expansion of online services will stunt growth of the system’s “academic-industrial complex,” said Hannah Gage, chairwoman of the board.

Board members declined to approve the construction of a new pharmacy school for UNC-Greensboro last year, opting instead to extend instruction at UNC-CH’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy to satellite programs across the state. Their decision represented a turning point for the board, Gage said in an email.

“This was when we decided as a board to move away from the stand-alone model towards a collaborative model,” she said. “We can no longer afford stand-alone schools when high-quality education can be delivered less expensively with technology.”

I have serious reservations about this being the real problem. Look at universities. Do you really think that the arms race is in academic instruction and offerings? Or world class gyms, student unions, and dining halls that impress campus tours and boost US News rankings?

The fault might be a little in our stars, but it’s a little in our selves as well.

On the one hand, we’re victims of a financial calamity. On the other, we’ve been playing chicken with the state for years, demanding a platinum university on a copper budget.

Why don’t we demolish or sell off every facility that wasn’t at UNC in 1980 and see where that puts our operating expenses. Buy your own damn gym membership. And go find your own food, or eat in a basic dining facility with few offerings. The library is for checking out books ONLY. You don’t need free HIV testing and counseling services. Eviscerate the Honors Program and dramatically debilitate study abroad. Bring a typewriter, because you don’t need a CCI computer or labs. Then we can make an apples to apples comparison about how much more neglect we’re getting. We might find we pine more for the status quo.

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