One of my previous posts speculated on the relationship between the availability of student loans and the rising cost of higher education. Inflation of tuition is a complicated issue, but let me share two more pieces of data on the subject. Both are specific to the University of Colorado, but I feel are at least somewhat representative of the larger picture.
First, state support for higher education has dropped dramatically. In effect, this transfers the actual cost of higher education from the taxpayers to the students. You can see the fraction of the state budget devoted to higher ed in Colorado below (click to embiggen).
The second piece of data concerns another idea I've heard batted around which is that tuition inflation is being driven by excessive pay for administrators and/or faculty. CU's provost (the head of the Boulder campus) was paid $389,000 last year, which is a lot of money, but it also comes out to 0.03% of the university's operating expenses for 2012. You can argue that administrative pay is too high, but it's just not a big enough chunk of the budget to be the cause of tuition hikes. As for faculty pay, a very unscientific study of the faculty in my department shows that they work on average 55 hours per week and make about 85% of what someone with a comparable level of education and experience makes in the private sector according to PayScale.com.
Again, I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do think it's important to get as much data into this debate as possible. Thoughts?