A Philosopher's Blog

Relative Cost of Education

Posted in Business, Philosophy, Politics, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on April 23, 2014
A Plumber at work.

A Plumber at work. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a professor I am aware that the cost of a university education has increased significantly, even adjusting for inflation. I am also well aware that this cost increase is not due to proportional increases in faculty salary. One reason for this is that the salaries of professors, especially those at state school, tend to be compressed. For faculty who have been around a long time, such as myself, the compression can be quite extreme. This is one reason why star faculty move around relentlessly in search of ever larger salaries. Another reason is that universities are relying very heavily on badly paid adjuncts. While the rates vary, a typical adjunct can make about $24,000 over nine months for teaching eight classes. There are generally no benefits at all, so the cost to schools is rather low. Given that such faculty typically have advanced degrees, they are perhaps the worst paid of the best educated.

It is true, as I mentioned, that there are some star faculty—they are the celebrities of academics who can use their status and connections to slide smoothly from one well-paying job to an even better paying job. Such stars also sometimes enjoy exemptions from the mundane duties of faculty, such as teaching. As with any profession, such stars are relatively rare and they are generally not a significant factor in the increased cost of education. As such, blaming the faculty for the higher cost is not, in general, a legitimate complaint.

That said, I do agree that complaining about the cost of education is legitimate: costs have increased significantly while there are increasing doubts about the quality and value of education. However, it is worthwhile to put the cost of education into perspective. Being a professor, I will focus on the educational aspects of the matter.

At a state school like my own Florida A&M University, a student will typically take a class from a person with a terminal degree in her field, usually a doctorate. A standard class is three credit hours, which means that a student is supposed to be in class for two and a half hours per week. My fellows and I typically teach four classes per semester and we are required to hold two hours of office hours per class. We also have various other research, advising and administrative duties. Thanks to email, students can also contact us around the clock—and many faculty, including myself, respond to emails outside of normal hours and on the weekends. We also typically do work for the classes, such as grading, preparing lessons and so on throughout the week and during “vacations.”

While the exact hours will vary, a student at a school like FAMU will have access to a professional with and advanced degree for 2.5 hours in the classroom, have access to 8 hours of office hours, and typically have unlimited email access. Most faculty are also willing to engage with students in their off time—for example, I have stopped while grocery shopping to explain a paper to a student who also happened to be shopping at that time. This is in return for the cost of tuition, only a small fraction of which goes to the professor.

Now, compare this to the cost per hour for other professionals. For example, a psychiatrist might charge between $125-$285 per hour. As another example, a plumber might charge $90 an hour. As a third example, a consultant might charge anywhere from $30 to thousands of dollars an hour. As a fourth example, an attorney might charge hundreds of dollars per hour.

Imagine what it would cost to have a plumber, medical doctor, or attorney spend 2.5 hours a week with you for 16 weeks (divided by the other people, of course), be available an additional eight hours a week, do work for you outside of those hours, respond personally to your emails and so on.  If professors billed like plumbers, lawyers or medical doctors, the cost of school would be insanely high.

It might be replied that plumbers, lawyers and medical doctors perform services that are more valuable than mere professors. After all, a plumber might fix your pipes, a lawyer might get you a nice settlement and a medical doctor might re-attach your quadriceps tendon. A professor merely teaches and surely that has far, far less value. The obvious practical reply is that people with college degrees make considerably more than those without—this would suggest that teaching does provide some value. There is also the obvious fact that plumbers, medical doctors and lawyers need education in order to do what they do—thus showing that education does provide something of value (although plumbers typically do not go to college to become plumbers).

As such, while education is too expensive, the actual cost of paying professors is ridiculously cheap relative to what other comparable professionals cost.


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27 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on April 23, 2014 at 8:51 am

    It comes down to this. If most of the philosophy professors disappeared would anyone notice? If even 20% of the plumbers disappeared, even philosophy professors would notice. As for $90/hr, a plumber might charge that but that’s certainly not what he makes. That would be like including the costs of campus maintenance and administrative fees in what a philosopher “charges”. And we’re back to the general cost of education.

    • Glen Wallace said, on April 24, 2014 at 1:47 am

      Perhaps no one would notice because everyone would have become too ignorant due to the lack of philosophy professors to realize the cause of all their ignorance and the resultant dystopia. Most people are completely oblivious to the significance of philosophy on all the fields of study and practice in the modern world. No one can really escape philosophy — so it will be done either very well with beneficial effects on the individual and society or it will be done poorly with all the negative knock on effects there. With training from philosophy professors people can utilize that training in their everyday life and enjoy the benefits for themselves and the society that that they share and interact with even if those properly trained individuals are not entirely conscious that they are engaging in philosophy in their every day lives.

      • WTP said, on April 24, 2014 at 5:22 am

        You should note that my point was if philosophy professors disappeared, not philosophers. Your point also presumes that philosophy professors are all that stand between us and ignorance and dystopia. Many philosophy professors are responsible for spreading ignorance. Many are themselves Marxists, the greatest source of dystopia in the last 200 years. You give philosophy professors credit for the good yet no responsibility for the bad. Many religions do the same with their god(s).

        I agree that a civilization can’t “escape” philosophy any more than a rocket can escape gravity. Plumbing has a philosophy if you understand it sufficiently.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on April 23, 2014 at 9:10 am

    • WTP said, on April 23, 2014 at 9:25 am

      Yes indeed. See my reply to your last post on the previous thread?

      • TJB said, on April 23, 2014 at 11:30 pm

        I still don’t think Mike thinks that way. He is primarily a moralist. He thinks profit is theft. He buys into the labor theory of value. He is close to being a Marxist.

        I don’t think he sees the world in terms of race or ethnicity.

        • WTP said, on April 24, 2014 at 6:24 am

          Are you saying Marxism and antisemitism are incompatible? Marx had some hang ups himself concerning Judaism.

          • T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2014 at 7:13 am

            No, but I have not seen any evidence in his writings that he worries much one way or the other about race or ethnicity. He has not ranted about “white privilege,” for example.

            • WTP said, on April 24, 2014 at 7:24 am

              True, but getting back to my original point…He has spoken up, and rightly so every time, when other forms of racial bigotry are trolled through the premises. Yet statements that are far more outrageous, those calling for the actual extermination of a people, treating them as subhuman, pass without so much as a comment. There is also the possibility that he is afraid to do so, but then what does that say?

            • T. J. Babson said, on April 24, 2014 at 8:24 am

              I guess it is a fair question. You will agree, though, that anti-Israel and anti-Jewish speech is more tolerated in our society than anti-black or anti-Islamic speech.

            • WTP said, on April 24, 2014 at 9:23 am

              Oh I definitely agree. But there are bigotries and prejudices that can be overcome with a modest amount of effort, like anti-black, anti-latino, anti-muslim, anti-jew and even anti-white such as “they’re stupid” or “i hate them” or “I don’t want them in my neighborhood” going as far as “I don’t trust them” and then there are the more dangerous ones such as “God commands us to kill them all”. I find it very odd and suspicious that someone should speak out against the former, which are at least justifiable in that people are entitled to their opinion and freedom of association, yet let allowing the latter existential assertions to pass completely unchallenged.

            • apollonian said, on April 24, 2014 at 10:51 am

              Ho ho ho–observe the Jew trying to intimidate the goyim–Jews sure are flying high–doubt they rule? Freedom and freedom of speech mean nothing to these sort–not to mention truth–which Jews hate, as I noted. And note how blogs are such good places to demonstrate these things about Jews.

              Comrades, take note–watch these Jews–they’re now moving to make USA feel the occupation no less than Palestine. Mike wrote about the oligarchy, and now he’s finding out the details, most poignantly, we see. Ho ho hoo ho

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

            Marxism is like vodka-you can mix it with almost anything. And eventually it kills your brain.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:11 pm

          Profit is theft. 🙂 But, I am fine with making an honest and fair living. In fact, I’d like to fairly earn a huge stack of cash. So buy my books.:)

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm

          Thanks to a youth spent as a gamer, I think of humans as a race. As such, there is just one race (as far as we know) on earth. Plus, I know enough people to know that the stereotypes are just that.

          • WTP said, on April 26, 2014 at 8:57 am

            Ah, so Mike says it, it must be so. Just like when he denies holding Marxist sympathies.

            You will note, again, the cutesy playing with the meaning of words, re there is just one race (as far as we know) on earth. Dictionaries be damned. You also will note that the statement about stereotypes says nothing at all. So again I refer back to my original quandary.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      That is my favorite part of the series. Humor is a wonderful thing-it saves a person from taking things too seriously.

      • WTP said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:33 pm

        And lame attempts at humor are attempts to save a person from dealing with reality. Or answering a question or addressing an issue. In childhood this is called being a smart-ass. In proper families one gets his face slapped, the car keys taken away, or spends an otherwise peasant afternoon cleaning out an already fairly clean garage. In adulthood it gets you a job as a philosophy professor because people in the real world have to deal with real problems and they have no time for smart-ass sh*t.

  3. apollonian said, on April 23, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Consult Economic Science (Esp. Austrianism) For Rise In Costs (As Of Education)

    Mike: u bring up another good topic for discussion–the cost of education. And u may be assured it’s all matter of economics.

    One thing should be obvious is the low pay of adjuncts is due to simple fact there are sooooooooo many of them, competing against one another which naturally then drives the price for their svcs down, down, down–simple economics, supply and demand.

    And indeed, as u note, cost of education is continuing to go up up up–it wasn’t always this way. FM 1810 to 1852–42 yrs!!!–the cost of tuition at Yale U. stayed exactly the same (about 33 $ per yr, ho ho ho). So what’s caused the prices/costs of education to continuously go up up up since WWII?–simple–as Peter Schiff pt.s out, gov. has GUARANTEED the payment of tuition for students trying to go to school.

    So there’s NO INCENTIVE for schools to cut costs–on the contrary–there’s every incentive to just raise tuition rates–why should they care?–for those costs are guaranteed to be paid by gov. subsidies. Gov. has literally guaranteed education prices to going up–get it?

    Meantime, w. students now guaranteed for their tuition, the political “price” for the gov. guarantees makes the “education” evermore politically affected–as for “toleration” of homosexuals, and the general “political correctness,” etc.

    Here’s great vid (about 10 mins) by Peter Schiff giving his expo. Schiff is Austrian school (like Ron Paul), so it’s straight free-market take, w. hist. of back-ground to illustrate, as I noted. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIcfMMVcYZg

  4. Dirk Baltzly said, on April 23, 2014 at 4:08 pm

    As they say, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. So, if philosophy professors disappeared would anyone notice?

    Well, if you think university expensive, try living in a country where more people believe that it is rational to accept the Bible as the literal truth than believe that it is rational to accept the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists. Or where people think that is obviously true that one should discriminate against same-sex couples because they’ve *always* been discriminated against.

    Oh, wait. You DO live in that country.

    • WTP said, on April 23, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      As they say, if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. So, if philosophy professors disappeared would anyone notice?

      Well, if you think university expensive, try living in a country where more people believe that it is rational to accept the Bible as the literal truth than believe that it is rational to accept the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists. Or where people think that is obviously true that one should discriminate against same-sex couples because they’ve *always* been discriminated against.

      Here’s and educational exercise. List the factual inaccuracies and logical fallacies in the above argument. You can start with “Straw Man”.

    • apollonian said, on April 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm

      “Dirk” Desperately In Need Of (Real) Education

      Dirk: the way things are now, ignorance, long as it retains HONESTY, is far, far, far more preferable than present edjumacation whence u get stupid, smug morons who imagine they’re “educated,” ho ho hoho ho.

      And Dirk: u’re PERFECT example–“consensus of climate scientists”?–u poor fool, these are all paid, gov.-subsidized prostitutes and liars who will say whatever their pay-master gov., controlled by the oligarchal interests behind non-existent “climate-change,” tells them to say–get a clue.

      People who respect the Bible are far, far, far more respectable, honest, and virtuous than morons who believe in “climate-change,” I’d say.

      And homosexuals?–they’re scummy, child-molesting psychos obsessed w. sense-gratification–didn’t u know that?–that’s why they’ve been rightly suppressed by healthy, rational people, as in the past, but less so in these days of Spenglerian “Decline of the West.”

      Regarding Phil. prof.s–there’s surely too many of them being paid by tax-payer funds, but they’re not bad long as they generally respect the rational method and logic–which most of them are trained to doing. Mike makes huge error of simple fact when he says Aristotle believed in ethics as end in itself, but I’m sure he’d ultimately agree there needs be reference for this, as in works of Aristotle, which he’d eventually heed.

      The best education is PRIVATE, period–nowadays there are just too many credentialed morons going about lying to the people–like about climate-change balderdash, and economics which favors evermore gov. spending–but regardless, it all seems to be part of inexorable “Decline of the West,” which simply must be weathered and endured, the strong surviving in the end.

    • TJB said, on April 23, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      Dirk, we have been told for 40 years that saturated fat was bad for you, but the latest studies are finding no evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease.

      Would one have been rational to question this finding?

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:15 pm

        That is one of the good things about using rational methodology: it can get things wrong, but (as you indicate) if it does, it also provides the tools for finding and correcting errors.

        As Locke argued, belief should be proportional to the evidence. As I teach my students, even well-grounded beliefs can turn out to be wrong. So, a person could be quite rational in a belief that later is disproven.

        • WTP said, on April 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm

          And over 100 years of failed marxism are still not sufficient evidence of a failed philosophy. It still hasn’t been tried properly.

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