Students Pay More as Colleges Spend Less on Instruction, Study Finds

June 08, 2009

Washington — Over the past two decades, tuition has risen at public colleges while money spent on classroom instruction has dropped, suggesting that students are paying more for less, says a report released today by the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability.

The report is based on a study that used 20 years of publicly available data from nearly 2,000 higher-education institutions to estimate the full cost of a bachelor’s degree, taking into account variables like state subsidies and private donations. The report was presented here today at a conference sponsored by the U.S. Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences.

The study found that, at public research institutions, nearly all of the revenue gained through tuition increases is used to offset losses in other revenue categories, such as state funds.

At public four-year institutions, students paid about one-third of their educational costs in 2002 but nearly one-half of those costs in 2006, the study found. At private research institutions, those figures remained relatively constant during the same period, with students paying 75 to 85 percent of their educational costs.

“Tuition increases are not being spent on students,” said Donna Desrochers, the Delta Project’s director for education and economic research, at the conference. —Austin Wright