College: Are You Getting What You Pay For?

College: Are You Getting What You Pay For?
  • Opening Intro -

    You invest thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars in to your child’s education, but are you getting a good return on that investment?

    That’s a reasonable question to ask, one that the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has sought to answer.


The ACTA is an independent, nonprofit organization, with a purpose for “advancing academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability at colleges and universities” across the United States. In April 2014 it published a report, “Getting What You Pay For?,” by taking a close look at the top-ranked public universities in America.

Public Universities

Public universities were founded early on in our nation’s history with select schools getting started before America’s independence. These schools are often known as “flagship universities” and were created to help young people “enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order….” At least that is what Thomas Jefferson and his fellow commissioners at the then new University of Virginia had in mind.

Well, the ACTA has found such universities are not making the grade. Specifically, students are not finishing school with common skills and knowledge nor are they engaging in “an intellectually vibrant campus culture” while they’re enrolled in classes.

The ACTA identified seven key subject areas that are not being widely used at these universities: composition, literature, intermediate-level foreign language, US government or history, economics, mathematics, and natural of physical science.

Some 17 universities require just two or fewer; 21 require just three of these core subjects. Of the 52 publicly-funded universities not one required a basic economics course. Just five universities require students to take a course in American government or history.

Tracking Student Progress

The ACTA also faulted schools for not sharing the results of nationally-normed assessment of student progress in core collegiate skills, noting that just one-quarter of the participating universities did so.

Other findings should should also raise the ire of parents and taxpayers alike. For instance, just 53.6 percent of students finish their four-year education within four years. Tuition and fees rose by 31 percent over the past five years, but those increases varied significantly with in-state tuition at the University of Washington rising by 75 percent to just under 1 percent for the University of Maryland. Notably, graduates that borrowed money while attending public university ended up owing between $16,983 and $35,168 on average.

Salaries and Work Schedules

The ACTA also found that most university presidents earn a higher annual salary than what the president of the United States makes each year. And as for university faculty, their schedules are typically light with most teaching four or fewer classes per year and rarely doing so on Fridays, the day when many academic buildings sit empty.

“The American people are directing millions of dollars to these universities and the return on investment seems too often to be lower academic standards, wasteful spending, and plenty of student debt,” said Anne D. Neal, ACTA president. “It’s time for our colleges and universities to uphold their commitment to the people who finance them. Students and taxpayers deserve institutions that will resist bloat, embrace innovation, and provide a sterling education for America’s young people at an affordable cost.”

Although providing a critical assessment of public universities, the report also offered several recommendations. Chief among them were: combating grade inflation, implementing a foundational core curriculum that employers and the American people want, protecting the free exchange of ideas, and utilizing buildings more effectively to cut costs.

More information can be found on the ACTA’s website.

See AlsoAre College Speech Codes Muzzling Your Voice?


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Categories: Campus News