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Students might be willing to forgo some luxuries to avoid
the kind of tuition increases universities project. “I think the
students are smarter than we give them credit for,” Vedder
said. “There are a lot of things they would get rid of that the
university doesn’t want to get rid of because it’s going to gore
the ox of special-interest groups.”
Intercollegiate athletics, said Vedder, is the quintessential
example. “If that were put to a student referendum, to not have
to pay that, and get out of intercollegiate athletics completely,
it would probably pass,” he said. “When you start seeing huge
increases in class size and laying off lots and lots of people
around campus, the campus community is going to be in an
uproar if the athletic department is exempt from all this.”
Meyers, in fact, has long proposed that William andMary’s
required fee for intercollegiate athletics—this year, $1,259 per
student—go instead to academics, while alumni be hit up to
pay for sports. “If this really is the worst financial crisis since
the Great Depression, if things are really that dire, you’ve got
to take a serious look at what the university is here for,”Meyers
said.
Students think so, too.The independent William andMary
student newspaper, the
Virginia Informer
, recommended its
own budget cuts. “I don’t think it’s that students are expecting
somuch,” the editor, Andrew Blasi, said. “Universities just
provide it out of concern they won’t be competitive.The
university could be doing a much better job of finding places
to cut costs,” he said, especially when “the only alternative
right now is to increase tuition significantly.” In a survey,
the organization Public Agenda found that 56 percent of
Americans think universities can find ways to spend less
without jeopardizing quality.
Student amenities and university rankings are not the
only competitive elements that have been driving up the
cost of higher education. Another is the dog-chasing-its-tail
quest by universities tomatch the faculty salaries of their peer
institutions. William andMary is behind in this race, and
Meyers said some of his colleagues have begun to look for new
jobs. But the reality is that, as many universities impose hiring
freezes, there are precious few places to go. And the salary
chase is almost certain to slacken.
“There’s this bidding war that’s been occurring with faculty,
not unlike what’s been happening with college coaches, and I
believe, along withmany others, that that is out of hand,” said
StanNosek, vice chancellor for administration at the University
of California, Davis, and chairman of the National Association
of College and University Business Officers. “Do I think that’s
going to slow down? Yes.”
New construction will slow down, too. “That saves us
cash and debt service,” Golding said. And new buildings have
to be lighted, heated, cleaned and staffed. EvenHarvard has
announced that it is “reconsidering the scale and pace” of its
already begun expansion on the Boston side of the Charles
River.
Nevertheless, a handsome new School of Education
building is going up outside Breneman’s window at the
University of Virginia, and construction is taking place
everywhere on theWilliam andMary campus—new schools
of business and education, a state-of-the-art science center,
and renovations to the law school, student recreation center,
dining hall, andmore. “I don’t think if we knew
that we were coming into this international
flapdoodle that we wouldn’t have built, but it
does put pressure on the budget,” Reveley said.
Universities also will have tomake better
use of the buildings they already have. Some
are empty on Fridays, weekends, and all
summer, critics complain. “Let’s face it, the
square footage of a typical university facility
is probably occupied 40 or 50 percent of
the time of a similar facility in the private
sector,” Vedder said. Nosek said this is already
changing. “We have gone through a transition
where you don’t see that Friday-at-3:00-it’s-a-
ghost-town,” he said. Still, he added, “there are
more opportunities there.” (Some schools are
shortening the time they are open.The University of Louisiana
at Monroe, for example, has cut the work week to four and a
half days, saving $400,000 a year in utility costs.)
Instead of building, many universities are making
infrastructure improvements that will cut costs in the long run.
UCDavis, for instance, just spent $900,000 retrofitting parking
lots with new lighting that will pay for itself within four years.
A survey conducted by the American Association of State
Colleges and Universities found that energy management is the
top area of cost containment by universities. And “there’s still
low-hanging fruit at many colleges and universities for this,”
said Nosek.
There are considerably more dramatic methods to change
the way that universities do business. One is differential
pricing—basing tuition on the actual cost of teaching different
disciplines. “A lot of people have problems with that at the
undergraduate level,” Nosek said. “But at the graduate level,
shouldn’t you be paying more for a veterinary degree or a
medical degree” than for a lower-cost humanities degree?
Some schools have considered charging less for courses on
the weekends, tomaximize the use of faculty and classrooms.
Hurley said instructional delivery is a major area for savings.
“If there can be some innovative changes in that sphere, that
would be a real breakthrough,” he said. One example is hybrid
courses, taught partly
online and partly in the
classroom. Another is
William andMary’s plan
to allow undergraduates
to earn a combined
bachelor’s andmaster’s
degree in public policy, in
an accelerated five years
instead of six.
There are also likely
to be calls for greater
productivity from faculty,
said Vedder. “As the cost
of teaching per credit hour
among full-time faculty
has gottenmuch, much
higher than for adjunct
faculty, or online faculty or
Increasing numbers
of students are
asking for more and
more financial aid.
And donors, their
own investments
drying up, have less
and less to give.
David W. Breneman, director of the University of
Virginia’s master’s program in public policy, questions
the need to pay campus leaders as much as some
corporate CEOs.
Dennis Brack, Black Star, for CrossTalk