Students & Parents | Costs

High life in higher ed shows skewed priorities

ORLANDO SENTINEL   |  June 19, 2013 by Editorial

The University of Central Florida can be proud of the news, in this week’s Sentinel, that it was one of 13 U.S. institutions to earn top marks for two of its teacher-education programs.

But there’s nothing for UCF to boast about in another recent Sentinel account from columnist Beth on one of the university’s new student housing projects, North View. Scheduled for its grand opening in the fall, it will feature extravagances such as a Swedish sauna, tiki hut and “resort style” pool, along with 60-inch flat-screen TVs in each apartment.

NorthView is emblematic of a national trend in higher education toward treating students like luxury hotel guests. That trend is just one reason why the price of going to college, and the amount students borrow to cover the cost, keep going up. At UCF, as Kassab pointed out, 42 percent of graduates in 2011 left lugging an average debt load of $20,000 each.

Universities may have convinced themselves they need to upgrade their facilities to keep up with the competition for applicants, but UCF shouldn’t be feeling that heat. With 58,000 students, it’s the nation’s second largest university.

The increasing cost of higher education isn’t just a worry for students and their families. Taxpayers directly subsidize public universities and colleges, and many students at both public and private institutions get publicly funded scholarships and publicly subsidized student loans. Every taxpayer has skin in the game.

Meanwhile, despite bright spots like UCF’s teacher education programs, Florida’s university system as a whole is still an academic underachiever.

None of its schools is ranked in the nation’s top 50 universities by U.S. News and World Report. Fewer than two-thirds of its students graduate within six years. And though it’s the second largest state university system, it ranks 17th in the number of distinguished science, engineering and medical faculty, according to a recent report from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the James Madison Institute.

While the report found much to praise about Florida’s universities, it also included data that suggest they don’t all have their priorities in order. Spending on administrators at four of them, including UCF, rose faster than spending on teaching in the five years ending in 2011, the last year for which such figures were available. Spending on athletics programs also increased quicker than instructional spending at eight of the nine NCAA Division I schools, including UCF.

State university leaders have understandably complained about steep cuts in state funding between 2007 and 2012. Lawmakers finally gave funding a deserving boost for next year, but now universities are chafing under pressure from Gov. Rick Scott to freeze their tuitions.

There’s plenty of merit in those complaints. But we’d be more sympathetic if universities weren’t wasting money on five-star dorms, and were increasing their spending on teaching faster than on administrators and sports.


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