Regents chair Richard B. Beeson (“4 ways the U is holding down student debt,” Nov. 5) continues to distract from the major unanswered question about the cost of higher education: Why has the cost outpaced inflation over the last 20 years by 241 percent? According to inflation rates provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation-adjusted cost of attendance in 2014, relative to the cost in 1994, should be just under $5,000. Instead, it’s over $12,000. What is the explanation for this difference?

 

The lower state funding as a percentage of the U’s operating budget reflects the increase in the operating budget rather than a decrease in the inflation-adjusted contribution from the state. Increased technology services and a rec center don’t seem like they add value to the tune of over $7,000 a year. Further, the costs of these value-added services are offset by technology and activity fees that have been levied to pay for improvements, including the student union and health services at the Twin Cities campus, over the last two decades.

Beeson addresses average student debt loads and points to outliers. Yet he leaves out how students borrowing zero for reasons other than lack of need may reduce the average. I wonder what the median and mean debt load would be if undergraduate students ineligible for student loans (example, foreign nationals) were excluded from the calculations?

The tuition freeze is a step in the right direction, but claimed savings are hard to take seriously when the question is whether the cost is too high to begin with. If costs have outpaced inflation, the unnecessary increased expenditures should be identified and evaluated for true need.

“Reinvesting” administrative cost cuts is just another word for a shell game. How are these reinvestments different from new programs that require more administration?

Lastly, if the value proposition for the university’s product was truly increasing, the increased costs wouldn’t be questioned. But the reality is that incomes have not grown to match the pace of the increase in the cost of higher education.

To date, the question of why costs have drastically outpaced inflation has not been answered. While this issue is in no way exclusive to the University of Minnesota, I challenge Eric Kaler, the Board of Regents or any past university administrator to explain the suprainflationary tuition increases of the last 20 years.

 

Brooke G. Kelley is a scientist and medical writer in Columbia Heights.