One example Alice gave was reagants. Just in case you don't know what she was referring to (and you may, I don't know), reagants are chemical components used in a lab. They are, by their nature, one-use-only. An example from home would be adding vinegar to baking soda. The vinegar and baking soda are your reagants, and once you react them, they are gone. You can't get them back. If you want to do the reaction again, you have to get more vinegar and baking soda. The only thing is that some of these things cost hundreds of dollars for a small bottle.
I wasn't certain, but it's good to know. Appreciations for making sure things are clear ^_^
Another example would be equipment. In order to remain relevant to current scientific fields of study, universities have to upgrade to recent equipment. Equipment that I have personally used in my own research includes HPLC (ours is ancient, but it works, and the cheapest price for an HPLC that I found online is $10k), and LCMS (over $500k per machine). The reagants for my personal lab work were probably close to $500, and that's not counting the equipment and reagants that my lab was already stocked with. An electron scanning microscope, which is vital to the education of modern biology, biomedical, and nursing students, runs upward of $500k and can be up to a mil. And that's just one college in my university, which has at least five colleges (Nursing, Arts and Sciences, Visual and Performing Arts, Business, and Law) that I can think of off the top of my head. Each college has its own expenses such as subscriptions to relevant journals and databases.
Something I never looked into but I don't think you'd mind telling me: do different fields of study in a university cost different amounts? Or is it all one lump sum that gets evenly divided among the students?
And then there are salaries. Universities, including - maybe especially - public universities (will get back to that in a minute) have to offer salaries that are at least comparable to if not competitive with the salaries that professionals would make working in their field instead of researching and teaching for the university. For some schools, the prestige of teaching at the school helps offset that (e.g. being offered a teaching position at Yale or Harvard is prestigious so in theory you wouldn't have to pay someone as well for it, although with a $30 billion endowment, Harvard can certainly afford to pay its professors very well) but for most schools like mine, you have to offer something comparable monetarily. Some people are willing to teach at public universities out of altruism, and that's fantastic, but that is not the majority of the workforce. So if someone can expect to be making easily $400k/year plus bonuses in the private sector, the school can't exactly offer them $80k a year to teach. And those salaries are not going down.
All of these costs and more add up to increase the cost of education nationwide.
I guess my issue is one of velocity vs. acceleration. I understand why the costs would be high to begin with, but other than the new machines and the like, not why they continue to rise so much faster than inflation. If all students are charged the same regardless of the cost of the machines necessary to provide learning, that would explain why, but wouldn't it then make more sense to charge more for a science degree than a liberal arts degree?
Based on DarklingAlice later saying that she averages costs across programs, it implies that different programs do cost different amounts. I can see why science program costs would be skyrocketing, but liberal arts? Are the salaries of the teaches jumping rapidly because other salaries are jumping rapidly?
I'm sorry for not getting this. I'll shut up if people want and I'm providing too much of a distraction.
A public university does not have to be entirely or even primarily funded by the government. For instance, the university that I attend is a public university that only gets about 20% of its costs from the state. Everything else is fundraised, donated, endowed, or funded through student fees.
I probably got confused by the question of public schools and private schools, and their definition. I'm guessing public university just means that they get any government funds whatsoever, then?
I actually think all elementary through high schools are doing a horrendous job. Regardless of being public or private. But yes, I assumed you meant universities as we are discussing college tuition. And my public university is consistently ranked in the top 20 of the nation (and generally within the top 50 worldwide).
In the part of my post that you mentioned, I was drawing an equivalency to the student voucher program idea. Apologies that I was unclear.
Trieste already gave a nice window into what the costs are and I just want to follow up with a general question: this notion that universities just charge as much as they can get away with, where is this even coming from? A university is a business with an operating cost just like any other. Tuition is regulated by what costs the university sustains, what the markets will bear, and what is necessary for the university to be able to re-invest in itself. E.g. tuition at my school will cost (averaged across programs) ~$15,000 a semester (twice that for non-resident students). I get that from a naive view that seems like a lot of money, but you have to balance it with the fact that goes to salaries for ~3,000 people, facilities maintenance, need based financial aid grants, research technology, and all the administrative costs attending those. I really just don't get where this idea of the greedy university with its arbitrary price points originates.
It's just the way our culture is going right now. People don't trust businesses, and a university is a type of business. I wouldn't consider myself against business, but if prices are rapidly jumping, I at least want to know why.
It's probably just so many minor factors that you can't pinpoint one issue, though.
Well, the argument is similar: without those gimmicks text book companies can't make it worth their while to print textbooks. It is a limited market after all and those companies aren't printing text books out of the goodness of their heart. However, I really question the need for textbooks in the first place. Neither my undergraduate nor the majority of my graduate program made use of them (and the three that my grad program used were probably well worth the ~$60 apiece I spent on them, two of them are currently on my desk in my lab). Frankly I see the majority of textbooks as a crutch that could almost always be replaced by original sources.
Since you're already in the field of academia, might I suggest ebooks? That'd cut down on prices dramatically, as well as make it much easier to change the material on a regular basis as changes are made and science continues to evolve. Do they exist at all, or would that be a separate company which is entirely viable but doesn't yet exist because the current companies aren't doing it?
If that's the case, I wonder how hard it'd be to start my own textbook business that works on ebooks.
I'm not really sure what to say here, but wanted to let you know that I wasn't ignoring you.
I know Penn State recently raised tuition because our wonderful governor slashed the hell out of the education budget. He decided schools don't need it. They can pay teachers less, or have fewer of them. And if that doesn't work, they can get cheaper equipment. The gas drilling company needs the money so much more than schools...
Are the natural gas companies being government subsidized more than other businesses? PM me with a link if you could; I don't want to derail this convo too far.