At Pomona College, a top-flight liberal arts school, this year's sticker price for tuition and fees is a hefty $38,394 (not including room and board). Even after adjusting for inflation, that comes to 2.9 times what Pomona was charging a generation ago, in 1980.
This kind of massive tuition increase is the norm. In New England, Williams College charges $41,434, or an inflation-adjusted 3.2 times what it did 30 years ago. The University of Southern California's tab of $41,022 is a 3.6 multiple of its 1980 bill.
Tuition at public universities, in a time of ailing state budgets, has risen at a faster rate. The University of Illinois' $13,658 cost is six times its 1980 rate after adjusting for inflation. San Jose State University's $6,250 is a whopping 11 times more.
If you look at how that added revenue is being spent, it's hard to argue that students are getting their money's worth. Why? Colleges aren't spending revenues, which we calculate to be about $40 billion a year nationally over 1980 revenues, in ways that most benefit students.
One thing colleges are spending more on is athletic teams, which have become a more pronounced, and costly, presence on campuses. Even volleyball teams travel extensively these days, with paid coaches and customized uniforms. There are football teams at 629 schools -- 132 more than in 1980. All but 14 of them lose money. It's true alumni donations sometimes rise during winning seasons, but most of those gifts go specifically to athletics or other designated uses, not toward general educational programs.
The average football squad has gone from 82 to 102 players because of subspecialties required by esoteric coaching strategies. Also, the number of women's sports teams has risen sharply; since 1980, the number of women's soccer programs has soared from 80 to 956. Varsity golf at Duke, open to both genders, costs an estimated $20,405 per player per year. Because there are no revenues for most sports, the deficits often have to be covered by tuition bills.
Another source of increased expense is administration. Since 1980, the number of administrators per student at colleges has about doubled; on most campuses, their numbers match the number of faculty. Here are some of their titles: senior specialist of assessment; director for learning communities; assistant dean of students for substance education; director of knowledge access services.
Needless to say, these officials claim they offer needed services. But let's not forget tuition pays for all these deans and directors.
Tuition revenue also has gone to hiking faculty salaries. Yale's full-time faculty members average $129,400, up 64 percent in inflation- adjusted dollars from 1980. (Pay in other sectors of the U.S. economy rose only about 5 percent in this period.) Stanford's tenured and tenure-track professors are doing even better, averaging $153,900, an 83 percent increase over 1980.
We're told such stipends are needed to get top talent; we're not so sure. Faculty stars may raise prestige, but they often are away from the classroom, having negotiated frequent paid leaves and smaller teaching loads -- underwritten, of course, by tuition. At Williams College this year, three of seven religion professors are taking off all or part of the academic year.
Complete data on college presidents' pay is accessible only back to 1991. Yet even in that relatively short span, many college leaders have seen their salaries double in inflation-adjusted dollars.
Carleton University's president gets 2.4 times more than the president did 19 years ago; at New York University, pay is 2.7 times what it was. It takes the tuitions of 31 Vanderbilt students to cover their president's $1.2 million annual stipend. We have yet to see evidence that lofting more money to the top enhances the quality of instruction.
In theory, all this money should permit the hiring of more junior faculty, which might mean smaller introductory courses. But big classes remain the norm. One reason is most teaching budgets are consumed by senior professors.
Amherst College's full professors absorb 77 percent of the cash available for full-time faculty. At UC Berkeley, they sop up 73 percent. At Northern Arizona University, it's 75 percent. The little that's left is parceled out among junior professors and underpaid adjuncts, who despite rising tuitions are doing an increasing portion of the teaching.
The cost of room and board has gone up sharply too, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Most college tours will show that student living standards also have risen. Rooms once had only iron cots, military mattresses and battered desks. Now suites are wired for electronic gear, with fully-equipped kitchens down the hall.
As to dining, food costs may be lower, but not on college campuses, where the quality of fare has become a marketing tool. If your memories of dorm food include mystery meat and overcooked vegetables, you'd be in for a shock.
Here were some recent choices in the Middlebury College dining rooms: sun-dried tomato pizzas, African couscous, tandoori chicken, orange- ginger tofu steak, red beans and basmati rice. Whether these menus make students more studious is not known.
The travesty of high tuition is most of it isn't going to education. Administrators, athletics and amenities get funded, while history departments are denied assistant professors. A generation is being shortchanged, largely by adults who have carved out good careers.
Hacker is on the faculty of Queens College and Dreifus teaches at Columbia University. Their book, "Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It," came out last month.