Higher education is a racketBy Sam Jefferson | 10/31/2016 8:57am
If you’ve ever seen a crime movie or a movie about the mob in general, then you have probably heard the term “racketeering.” It’s organized crime’s bread and butter – the foundation that such an operation is built on. Basically, racketeering is the provision of a service by a group that is the cause of the problem warranting the service. The best example is the offering of protection. Say a group charges local business a sum of money every month and in return the business won’t be vandalized; the catch is that the vandals are employed by the group offering protection. With this in mind, I would like to pose the question: might we be able to consider the modern secondary education system to be running a racket?
This is by no means a formal accusation, and it should be noted that intention is pivotal in this matter. However, the price of attending college in this country has become detrimentally high and is problem worth examining from all angles.
So first let’s look at why we are willing to pay these outstanding prices to enroll in this system. For many it is the next natural step after finishing high school, almost as if they are carrying on a family tradition. For others, they may be the first of their lineage to attend a college or university. Either way the main point seems to be the product rather than the process. It’s about getting a diploma, the education aspect is a by-product.
It’s all about utility. A necessary step towards creating a better future. If this is the case, one would think accessibility would be of the utmost importance yet increasing prices have hindered many from taking such a step. This raises the question of why these prices are so high. Your average 4-year public institution these days comes complete with posh student housing options, a state of the art recreation and pool center, and a first class student center. None of these things seem to be crucial towards getting a decent education, they just happen to make student life more comfortable. And while comfort can be important in aptly dealing with the stresses of college life, it has become superfluous.
Every year since 1980, the tuition rates of public 4- year institutions have increased faster than the inflation rate. This increase can be chalked up to the fervid improvements in the category of “student living.” For the sake of brevity, let’s consider the emphasis put on this category a result of schools’ recruiting efforts. As more and more people decide to attend college, the more schools compete over who can attract the most new students. And in turn charge them absurd amounts to go there.
Aside from making themselves more attractive through supplementary amenities, lots of schools are also able to provide their top staffers pretty cushy salaries. Here at UA, many top staffers are receiving six figure salaries that are steadily increasing. According to an article from AL.com, more than 790 people at this school make more $100,000 per year. The Vice-Chancellor for finance, Ray Hayes, makes $475,000 a year. That’s 11 times the median income of the average household in this state.
The issue is not whether these people deserve this money. The issue is that they are burdening thousands of students with unreasonable debt, instead of making budget cuts that could potentially improve the situation.
Now, why might this be considered racketeering? If the point of school is the utility of a diploma, and the amenities and salaries that tend to cause such high prices don’t directly affect this goal, then the point could be made that they are running a racket. Students would not have to pay as much for what has become a necessary step in achieving a sustainable future if it were it not for a problem the universities themselves have created.
Sam Jefferson is a junior majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.