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The rising cost of college: Blame professors, too

| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

A new study documents a pernicious way that the umbrella of ever-greater federal subsidies for higher education provides cover for ever-rising tuition that soaks taxpayers, students and families: professors at research universities slacking on actually teaching classes.

Sponsored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Education Sector think tank, the study finds that if each full-time professor taught one additional class per semester, these institutions — including Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh — could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue.

Had that happened between 1988 and 2004, when faculty course loads dropped from 3.6 classes per semester to 2.7, a bit more than half of tuition hikes during that time could have been avoided, says economist Andrew Gillen, the study's author.

Professors teaching less contributed to a double whammy hitting students and families: More of their dollars going to federal higher-ed subsidies, making it harder to pay ever-higher tuition — and anecdotal evidence says that trend continues.

The study blames emphasis on research for professors' turn away from teaching. Pitt is silent on the matter. Penn State contends research grants offset faculty salaries and thus lower instruction's cost. Yet tuition increases far outpace inflation.

That's because rising federal subsidies provide leeway for wasteful higher-ed nonsense such as this study documents — waste that will continue as long as federal subsidies do.

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