Paul Campos probably does not know the real reason for tuition increases.

by Eric on April 6, 2015

Paul Campos writes in the New York Times about what he claims is the “real reason” for higher college tuition in the USA:

far from being caused by funding cuts, the astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education.… a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration

And he singles out the California State University (CSU) system as an example:

while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase

As it happens, rising tuition in the CSU system has (together with rising tuition for the University of California1) been the subject of a study by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), which finds that what Campos dismisses as “conventional wisdom” – that state universities charge higher tuition because states have cut public funding to higher education – is not only conventional, but supported by data. The PPIC study concludes,

Our examination of expenditures by the UC and CSU systems shows that the cost of providing public higher education in California has not risen dramatically. Instead, the tuition increases over the past several years have merely shifted the cost from the state to students and their families.

It may, of course, be the case that Campos has better information than PPIC. But it seems unlikely to me that he does.

(See also Matt Reed, Inside Higher Ed.)



1In addition to its community colleges, the state of California has two public university systems, the California State University system and the University of California system. The principal distinction between the two is that the UC offers the PhD, in keeping with Clark Kerr’s Master Plan.

{ 79 comments }

1

SamChevre 04.06.15 at 5:19 pm

The timeframe, here, is absolutely critical. Campos is looking at 1980-present, PPIC is looking at 2002/2006 to present.

It’s like a lot of things (climate change, anyone?); short-term changes and long-term changes aren’t necessarily caused by the same underlying dynamic.

Another key difference is, is the key metric spending per student, or spending per person of college age.

2

Eric 04.06.15 at 5:21 pm

When the substantial increases have occurred since 2002/06 then I think that’s the relevant time frame.

3

Main Street Muse 04.06.15 at 5:41 pm

I love how NC is “investing” in the UNC system by slashing half a billion dollars from its budget in the last few years…

In the NYT article, Campos floats this idea: “For example, the military’s budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher.”

I would love the source for his claim that the US military budget is just 1.8 times higher than in 1960….

Also, I’d like to know how many more students are enrolled today than in 1960. Perhaps the legislative appropriations in education are not necessarily translated into 10x higher spending per pupil. Certainly that money is not going to teachers…

4

Main Street Muse 04.06.15 at 5:43 pm

In doing some reading on Campos’ numbers, I ‘ve learned that the US military budget in recent years does NOT include the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Fuzzy math at play!

Here’s an analysis of the numbers and the Campos story from academeblog.org http://bit.ly/1xXuDKs

5

Mr Punch 04.06.15 at 5:51 pm

Marina Warner in a recent London Review makes a related anti-administrator argument. Of course, “administration” is a broad category, which includes a lot of people who are bringing in and managing money (development officers, accountants, grants administrators) as well as student services personnel – they aren’t all excess vps and assistant coaches. In my opinion, one significant source of the problem is that faculty have been increasingly unwilling or unable to assume some of these duties.

6

Matt 04.06.15 at 6:01 pm

Most of what you need to know about Paul Campos can be gathered from the fact that, in the days shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he went on the Bill O’Reily show to argue that it would be just fine, and even desirable, to fire Ward Churchill for his constitutionally protected speech. His adventures into what’s wrong with law schools (and now colleges in general) have been similar, in that the arguments are bad, data (or often, “data”) is used as a crutch to support conclusions reached a priori and not to illuminate or investigate, his own inadequacies as a scholar are projected onto everyone else, and the main purpose is to draw attention to Paul Campos. The man is truly not worth any time or consideration at all.

7

Bloix 04.06.15 at 6:22 pm

Campos has done extraordinarily important work on the cost of law schools and the job market for young lawyers – work that has had a direct and substantial impact to the benefit of tens of thousands of young people considering law school . He’s been quite courageous in this work, which has set him against the legal education establishment and the administration and faculty of his own institution (if there’s ever been an advertisement for the benefits of tenure, Paul Campos is it.)

Recently, he has expanded his interests from law schools to higher education generally, as in this article.

I read his piece in the Times yesterday and I was surprised at some of what he says and doubtful of much of it. But his emphasis on the rise of administrative costs and the decline in the amount spent on faculty is, I think, plainly true and also completely missing from the general debate.

I would like to see some numbers projecting what public university tuition would look like if administrative costs had been held to a constant percentage of expenditures.

8

rea 04.06.15 at 6:26 pm

Partial transcript of the Campos remarks criticized by Matt here:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/02/10/ward-churchill-cult-personality/

You will see that Campos takes the p0sition that academic fraud unrelated to Churchill’s 9/11 comments might (and subsequently, did) provide a basis for firing him, and that the 9/11 comments might motivate people to research other things Churchill had written. Not at all the same thing as saying, “it would be just fine, and even desirable, to fire Ward Churchill for his constitutionally protected speech.”

9

Martin Bento 04.06.15 at 6:30 pm

Eric, the chart you linked starts in 92. Didn’t tuition at California public universities also increase a lot from the 70s (starting from a base of free about that time) through the 80s? Or am I mistaken on that? Although I think for that period too, withdrawal of public subsidies has a lot to do with it. But are we really letting the expansion of administration off the hook here? In some other discussions here, there seemed to be a broad consensus that expansion of administration was eating up much more of the school budgets than previously.

10

Bloix 04.06.15 at 6:30 pm

PS- I have been reading Campos on legal education for several years, first at his blog and now at Lawyers Guns and Money. His background as a lawyer and law professor gives him a deep insight into institutional structures and behavior, but his statistical sophistication isn’t what it could be. He could make a more valuable contribution if he partnered with an economist or a statistics-minded sociologist.

11

gianni 04.06.15 at 6:32 pm

Some might argue that spending an increasing amount on education, as compared to the military, is the sign of a nation that is progressing and moving towards some sort of peaceful prosperity. Some might find this sort of statistic actually heartening, and think it odd that Mister Campos is using it in this manner.

Now, as MSMuse notes above, he is either oblivious to the truth or being actively deceitful here. But still.

12

oldster 04.06.15 at 6:41 pm

Agree with Bloix that PC has done some valuable work on legal education and the legal market for fresh JDs.

Also agree that he sometimes tends towards the contrarian/slate-pitchy, as this op-ed seems to have done. (And done even start him on Body Mass Index).

It’s too bad that he could not use this op-ed to draw attention to the problem of administrative kudzu, without pitching it as an exoneration of state legislatures that slash their budgets for higher ed. As ER’s OP suggests, it is possible that the problems in higher ed have more than one source! Indeed, there seems to be evidence that both the slashing of state budgets and the explosion in administrative salaries are both sources of the problem in higher ed.

13

mdc 04.06.15 at 6:42 pm

Campos’ piece also didn’t distinguish between published tuition and net tuition (the former minus financial aid). Don’t know how big a difference there is between these (what they call the ‘discount rate’) in a big state system, but at some schools it’s huge. No estimate of tuition revenue levels makes any sense without observing this distinction.

14

Bloix 04.06.15 at 6:42 pm

Gianni, MSMuse, Matt –
I get the feeling there are a lot of commenters here who have no idea who Paul Campos is or how important he’s been to the debate over the value of law school.

Spend some time with
http://insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/

and with
http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/?s=campos&x=0&y=0

before you snark about idiot or lawyer, who can tell? This is a tenured professor who, against his self-interest, has made a positive difference to the lives of real people. A rarity.

15

gianni 04.06.15 at 6:49 pm

rea @8

Just to be clear, you are linking to an article titled “Ward Churchill’s Cult of Personality” on Fox News, with Bill O’Reilly as the host. Let us leave aside, for the moment, the fact Bill O’Reilly has had his own problems with journalistic integrity and honesty in the past, which I am sure that Campos is himself very concerned about.

Do you honestly believe that Churchill’s firing was not directly related to his statements about 9/11? Do you believe that going on the national news media in the wake of those statements and arguing for him to lose his job was unrelated to those statements, and could be done in an objective way focused solely on his academic work? Do you believe that Fox News with Bill O’Reilly is the place for that sort of sober argument about academic ethics and integrity?

Because I can’t imagine that you believe any of those things, but they seem to be necessary for you to make the defense you are trying to make. At best, it seems you end up with a situation where Campos is merely being a cold opportunist: with totally legitimate aims for either personal advancement or personal vengeance, and just jumping on the bandwagon of hate in order to accomplish them. Which is still not the profile for someone I want to be getting, say, advice on for professional school.

And Bloix @10, please elaborate on this notion that “his statistical sophistication isn’t what it could be”. If the meaning of this statement is something closer to ‘he sometimes gets his statistics wrong or uses them disingenuously to prove his point’, well, we should be upfront about that before we start to take this person – whom you praise – at their word.

16

Main Street Muse 04.06.15 at 6:54 pm

Bloix @ 14 – he may be brilliant when analyzing law school, but his math is – at best – questionable – in the NYTimes op-ed.

It is absolutely appropriate to discuss issues within higher ed (as contingent faculty, I have significant issues with higher ed today), but to say legislative funding of higher ed has not been cut is simply wrong – or at the very least, I’d love to know where he’s getting his data from.

Yes, higher ed administrative costs have skyrocketed significantly, as have presidents’ salaries. But to say that legislative funding of higher ed has increased 10 times since 1960 – without noting the astronomical increase in student numbers is exceptionally misleading.

And to toss around military spending budgets – without noting that current military spending figures do not include the WAR SPENDING we’ve invested in since 9/11/01 is beyond misleading and ventures into the “lie zone.” He’s made a terrible argument in the NYTimes piece. And that’s a shame because the issues within higher ed and their associated costs are indeed very troubling.

17

gianni 04.06.15 at 7:00 pm

Bloix

First of all, get that chip off your shoulder about the whole legal/lawyers thing, you are projecting and it is unseemly.

Second, the debate on the ‘value of law school’ is its own independent issue, quite distinct from the question about the cost of undergraduate education, and of little interest to a vast majority of the population. It is a highly specific issue that only a select set of people know or care about, so I understand why you want to drag the discussion onto that terrain. But please realize that this outside expertise is not a defense against in-text errors in his present work on a different subject. So don’t try to leverage it as such.

So it is entirely possible that his work on that question is flawless, but to be perfectly frank I just do not care about that work and have no interest in clicking those links.

Then you make moves toward this characterization of him as a sort of ’embattled crusader’ . The fact that he is going against the majority of his profession is good for him and all, but hardly makes him a crusader for truth and justice in general. There are plenty of analogies one could use to draw this out, but you are just waving your hands here and it is not worth the distraction it would bring.

18

Bloix 04.06.15 at 7:01 pm

MSM- I believe I’ve made clear that I agree with you that his math in the NYT article is questionable.
I think it was a bad mistake to include the utterly irrelevant comparison with military expenditures. He’s flubbed an unusual opportunity to break into the mainstream debate.
That said, Campos has been a very important force for good in higher education over the past few years and he deserves some recognition for his work.
And I despair to see this this thread derailed onto a lot of nonsense about fucking Ward Churchill. In a few minutes we’ll be arguing about whether Ralph Nader caused Bush to win the 2000 election.

19

gianni 04.06.15 at 7:03 pm

MSMuse:
” to toss around military spending budgets – without noting that current military spending figures do not include the WAR SPENDING we’ve invested in since 9/11/01 is beyond misleading and ventures into the ‘lie zone’.”

I share your sense of exasperation, but in his defense this sort of budgetary three-cup-monte was sanctioned at the highest levels of American government.

20

Main Street Muse 04.06.15 at 7:08 pm

Bloix @18 “And I despair to see this this thread derailed onto a lot of nonsense about fucking Ward Churchill. In a few minutes we’ll be arguing about whether Ralph Nader caused Bush to win the 2000 election.”

Not the 2000 election, which we all know was determined by SCOTUS! ;-)

Given the very real problems of higher ed (I am speaking not only as contingent faculty, but as a parent with three children soon to head off to college), I am sad to see an important story about the problems with higher ed ruined by fuzzy math. I hate fuzzy math. Campos, if he’s so brilliant as an attorney, should really know better about how to argue. His op-ed is a case study in how NOT to argue…

21

Eric 04.06.15 at 7:44 pm

From the Chronicle:

The idea that administrative bloat — most often expressed in references to six-figure salaries — is a contributing factor to rising tuition is nothing new. A report by The Delta Cost Project last year found that new administrative positions were the primary driver in a 28-percent expansion in the higher-ed workforce between 2000 and 2012. The relationship between that increase and tuition hikes is less clear.

22

JLV 04.06.15 at 7:48 pm

Campos’s points can be entirely consistent with decreasing per-student state funding.

If:

a) Per Pupil funding decreases

and

b) the direct cost to the university of educating a student decreases (because the marginal additional student is taught by an adjunct or grad student, and is taught in a larger class)

then c) Adminstratrors are free to raise tuition because they can and they can capture essentially all of the rents produced by this increase in tuition revenues.

23

Matt 04.06.15 at 7:50 pm

He’s been quite courageous in this work, which has set him against the legal education establishment and the administration and faculty of his own institution

Once you realize that the purpose of Paul Campos doing something is to draw attention to Paul Campos, you’ll see that this is wrong. As you yourself note, his work isn’t of very high quality. He doesn’t “partner” with someone who could do things better, because he’s not really trying to get to the bottom of things. His work isn’t important, because it’s mostly about Paul Campos. You can see this in his op-ed here, but the same thing is apparent in all his work. Of course, his tendency to think that all other academics are as big of frauds who don’t want to work as he is makes it harder for him to do anything good. It’s not “against his self-interest” to do this, because without this, he’d be completely ignored as the academic non-entity he is. Producing grand-standing, shoddy work is the only thing he can do to draw attention to himself, something that seems to be his biggest interest. He should just be ignored. It’s too bad he was given a high-profile platform to show off in. He doesn’t deserve it.

24

F 04.06.15 at 7:58 pm

It’s pretty hackish.

If you look at the graphs on his website, it’s just a mess. Why does he add in Pell grants to total state appropriations? Do the state appropriations include local government funding too? Why combine public and private schools when the magnitude of the tuition changes in each is vastly different?

The most dramatic changes in public funding (both total and per student) were between 1960 and 1980. Is he really arguing that we should still have the level of higher education attainment we had in 1960? Then why doesn’t he say so. And is he really saying that all the administrative bloat that he implies is really responsible for the cost increase happened way back in the 60s and 70s? Is there any data that support that implication?

25

mdc 04.06.15 at 8:03 pm

Does “administrative bloat” mean the same administrators are now paid excessively, or that rather that there are now too many administrators? If the latter, and if “administration” means “non-teaching professional staff”, I wonder how much the “bloat” is due to increased student services. Eg, IT budgets used to be tiny, compared to what they are now. Many schools now offer pretty generous counseling services to students, unlike in the past. Career services offices have grown many places. Or to take another sort of example: schools are more dependent on philanthropy now- advancement departments are much larger, correlatively. How many of these non-teaching services can one imagine seriously paring down?

26

AcademicLurker 04.06.15 at 8:08 pm

How many of these non-teaching services can one imagine seriously paring down?

Over at IHE last year, I noticed an ad on the sidebar announcing an opening for “Associate Vice Dean for Brand Management”. I nominate that position as the first to go.

27

TM 04.06.15 at 8:10 pm

I followed some of Campos’ writing on “the value of law school” and was disappointed by his purely lawyer-centered perspective. I asked him how he would explain that despite the alleged “glut” of unemployed or underpaid lawyers, legal services in this country are still essentially unaffordable to the vast majority of the population. No response, apparently it’s just none of his concerns. I suppose his criticism of the law schools is half right just as his criticism of University administrations is half right. But a serious analysis – one that has a chance to be more than half right – he does not offer, which is a pity because it makes it easy to dismiss the half-truths he does offer.

28

TM 04.06.15 at 8:21 pm

It is true that “administration” doesn’t just mean highly paid executives. Interestingly, Arkansas requires its public Universities to publish, every year, a list of all administrators paid more than $100,000. The list has expanded from 501 pages to 745 in just the last four years (see http://www.adhe.edu/divisions/institutionalfinance/Pages/Publications.aspx; each position has a page of its own). Many of these positions are just slightly above $100k but still, the numbers are pretty stark (and $100k is a high salary in Arkansas, in case you are used to NYC cost levels). Is it a lot of money as a percentage of the overall education spending? I don’t know for sure (the format of the report isn’t very friendly to data analysis) but what is definitely an issue is massively increasing inequality within the University.

29

rea 04.06.15 at 8:24 pm

Gianni: “Just to be clear, you are linking to an article titled “Ward Churchill’s Cult of Personality” on Fox News, with Bill O’Reilly as the host

The reason I linked to that is that Matt, above, had said: “in the days shortly after the 9/11 attacks, he went on the Bill O’Reily show to argue that it would be just fine, and even desirable, to fire Ward Churchill for his constitutionally protected speech,” and it therefore became topical to see what Campos had actually said on the show.

Churchill was formally fired for fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism in his scholarship. It’s unfortunate that it took him calling the 9/11 victims “Little Eichmans” to draw attention to his deficiencies, but those deficiencies were very real, and he shouldn’t get a free pass for them just because he said something offensive and political.

30

woof 04.06.15 at 8:39 pm

gianni,

Some would look at the size, cost, and spread of our military ambitions and then consider the state of public education and wonder just how some could come to the conclusion that we are directed toward, much less approaching peaceful prosperity.

31

christian_h 04.06.15 at 8:41 pm

I would argue that there are problems at all levels: with higher education appropriations; with the managerial transformation of the university; with the demands that the university take on functions, in particular with regards to student life, unrelated to education or science; with the skewing impact of grant “outside” funding (grants, fundraising gifts, industry funding) on the way money is spent. Any article that tries instead to reduce the problem to merely one of these issues (state funding, or fancy dorms and gyms, or new VC’s, or too many new labs) to me is not serious. Some causes are of course bigger than others – in my opinion, declining public funding is the biggest and to an extent a driver of the others – but we need to walk, chew gum, breathe and talk at the same time here.

32

gianni 04.06.15 at 8:43 pm

The problem with his analysis is that it is the reasoning that many want to/are primed to hear, and almost necessitates ‘radical’ solutions to the problem.

Blaming the growth in costs to ‘bloated administrators’, a close cousin of those ‘bumbling bureaucrats’ we have been so well trained to hate, is safe. It is an answer we want to hear, we are ready to hear. A deeper discussion of the regressive impact of ‘balanced budget’ rules at the state level and the hollowing out of the American notion of meritocracy just is not going to resonate with his audience. At least not without putting some real work in.

The author knows this, of course – he knows that his argument on this specific point is tapping into a general political argument, and can rest confident that it will convince the already convinced.

But when you accept this diagnosis – it is those greedy and out-of-control administrators who are at fault! – you are predisposed to radical ‘solutions’ that attack the university and its tools for self-governance. If you cannot trust the administrators to properly manage the university, and you cannot allocate additional funds either (as no matter how allocated, they would inevitably fall into the administrators’ clutches), then what are you left with? Further cut-backs, MOOCs…. I am not sure what he would propose but you see where this line of ‘analysis’ will lead you.

The real howler for me was: “It is disingenuous to call a large increase in public spending a ‘cut,’ as some university administrators do, because a huge programmatic expansion features somewhat lower per capita subsidies.”

So let us say that Joey is on food stamps, getting $75 a month, and a few years later they change up the formula, and now he is getting $60 a month. Joey is now being ‘disingenuous’ when he tells you that his nutrition benefits were cut.

And Paul Campos is being honest when he says that we, as a society, have been profligate with our public expenditures on education compared to our spending on the military. Sure.

33

Dr. Hilarius 04.06.15 at 8:53 pm

Just this week a Seattle City Council member announced she’s leaving the council to take a new position at the University of Washington, Director of Regional and Community Relations, at a salary of $155,000. This for a totally ineffectual public official seen as likely to lose in the next election.

The UW is loaded with similar administrative fluff. But tuition increases have tracked long-standing reductions in tax support for the UW. The administrative bloat just adds to the underlying problem.

As for Campos, I wouldn’t trust anything from the man given his arguments on obesity (The Obesity Myth); a contrarian patchwork of overstatement, straw men, and false correlation.

34

Bernard Yomtov 04.06.15 at 8:58 pm

Could we know how enrollment changed from 1975 to 2008?

Assuming there was some growth, then the increase in full-time faculty – less than 5% over thirty-three years – is a remarkable number.

On the other hand the increase in administrators, when translated from the spectacular 221% to the annual rate of about 3.6% seems maybe a bit high, or not, depending on lots of things.

35

rea 04.06.15 at 9:23 pm

I asked him how he would explain that despite the alleged “glut” of unemployed or underpaid lawyers, legal services in this country are still essentially unaffordable to the vast majority of the population

Because the problem isn’t that a shortage of lawyers keeps the price of professional services high–it’s that operation costs (including payments on law school debt), and the fact that lawyers don’t like working for less than minimum wage mean a lot of things can’t be handled economically.

If you have a $1000 case that I can win with a week of hard work, how is that ever going to work out?

36

harry b 04.06.15 at 9:26 pm

If I were Paul Campos I wouldn’t start my article quoting someone who really knows what they are talking about, and then say they’re wrong without some explanation of how she could have got it so badly wrong.

Note also his comparison with the military, all of whose funding comes from the Feds. As a friend always says — 2o times almost nothing is almost nothing.

The rise in ‘administrators’ (ie, non-teaching, non-research professionals) is in very large part a response to the fact that over the past 30 years the proportions of students who come from social backgrounds for which college is not natural and well understood have increased, and we are increasingly trying to ensure that they succeed (rather than enrolling them and letting them fail). And, as Mr Punch says, faculty members’ increasing inability and/or unwillingness to perform counseling and advising roles, especially for the students who most need it.

37

F 04.06.15 at 9:27 pm

33

UW, like most big universities, definitely has administrative fluff. So do most large organizations. It may be a large percentage of the budget or it might be quite tiny. It may be possible or impossible to eliminate that fluff. But no one seems to have any data that answers any of those questions, least of all Campos.

38

adam.smith 04.06.15 at 9:39 pm

When I read the op-ed it struck me that the entire dismissal of the claim that public funding of higher ed has eroded is based on using absolute vs. per-capita numbers. When I looked for per-capita numbers, I found http://www.sheeo.org/sites/default/files/publications/SHEF-FY12.pdf which suggests that from 1987 to 2001, per capita expenditure per (FTE) student was about the same (going up and down somewhat), then started to fall, and dipped dramatically (and unsurprisingly) after 2007, in some states as much as 50%.

The report also includes total spending and number of students. Since many states determine funding for higher ed by student, using absolute numbers is odd and, at a minimum, requires significant justification (which Campos doesn’t produce). I’m sympathetic to claims about administrative bloat, but as someone says above, a lot of the services provided are probably a good thing. 7 digit salaries for university presidents probably not so much.

39

Warren Terra 04.06.15 at 9:44 pm

I’m with B. Yomtov at #33 here.

More generally, I’m with Compromise. As a longtime habitue of Lawyers, Guns, and Money I know Campos of old, and it’s wrong either to venerate or to excoriate him. He’s often hugely important on the issue of law school (less so the more personal it gets), and he’s sometimes just inexcusable (on Elena Kagan in particular he was not just wrong but incredibly wrongheaded, subscribing to inane arguments possibly from some personal animus). So, given that Campos is smart-but-unreliable, can we move on and seek points of agreement?

1) Over the last generation, tuition has skyrocketed.
2) State funding for higher education is way down over that time frame.
3) In at least some and possibly many cases, faculty costs per student haven’t risen significantly, or have fallen.
4) Administrative costs are way, way up.
5) Not mentioned, I think: facilities costs are often also way up, especially recreational and “student athletics” facilities.

Now, maybe we can make a case for the increase in administration costs. There’s a lot more IT issues, there’s a greatly increased recognition of and institutional efforts to deal with issues of bias and of diversity – important issues that are worthy of engagement and of expense, whether or not you think the university is doing a good job with them and getting its money’s worth. Maybe the rest of the ballooning administrative costs can similarly be justified. Still, they are ballooning, and this really should be explained, especially when the professoriate who presumably directly perform the univerity’s core functions (teaching, research, establishing a community of scholars conducive to both) haven’t seen similarly increased finances.

Since we all I think agree about the above factors, if not about the relative contributions they make to the problem, can’t we stop calling people names and discuss the relative contributions and merits of these components of the problem?

40

Corey Robin 04.06.15 at 9:59 pm

Just a local anecdote on the increase in the number of administrators (which, I agree with Eric above, is a fairly well reported phenomenon — see link below for just one of the more recent examples — and not the real source of tuition hikes, though it is damn annoying that a college can afford one of these high-cost items but not more faculty):

Once a month, chairs and administrators at Brooklyn College meet around a set of tables arranged as a very large rectangle. Over the years, my chair elders tell me, the number of administrators around the rectangle has increased. Now they occupy the entirety of one of the two longer sides of the rectangle and about half of one of the two shorter sides, taking up anywhere from 33 to 38% of the seats.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/06/higher-ed-administrators-growth_n_4738584.html

41

Main Street Muse 04.06.15 at 10:10 pm

Warren Terra @ 39: “1) Over the last generation, tuition has skyrocketed.
2) State funding for higher education is way down over that time frame.”

The decline in state funding explains skyrocketing costs for public university tuition. What explains the astronomical increases in private tuition? Average tuition is $32K a year at many of the private colleges!!! (And that figure does not include room and board.) Certainly not professor salaries, as the dreaded “grad student/adjunct/lecturer” as teacher notion has infected even private campuses.

42

Marc 04.06.15 at 10:13 pm

@33: Good catch; I posted the same link to Campos at his website. This isn’t a small matter: go to p.25 and look at their data. This includes actual (not sticker price) tuition collected and is a proper per capita comparison. And, nationwide, the drop in one completely explains the rise in the other. Note also that average income has risen since, say, 1970; and therefore you’d expect even more state spending if college was a fixed fraction of the budget.

Campos goes into serious crank territory on matters of health and obesity, and here he’s basically serving up right wing talking points at a time when state universities are facing additional crippling cuts. His op-ed was beyond terrible – it was intellectually dishonest. You don’t use absolute dollar amounts without accounting for population or income growth – you use per student spending. You don’t pretend that all Pell Grants go to students in public universities when doing your book-keeping.

I’m sympathetic to the idea that administrative bloat is partially responsible – but note the lack of numbers in his piece, which isn’t an accident. I’ll pull up a reference in a bit, but the pieces that I read argued that administration is still a small percentage of university costs (the increase was only 6 percent globally, albeit from a small base). And note that a lot of admin costs are things like study abroad, as well as disability services, counseling, and the like. There are too many sub-vice-deans-of-synergizing, but they’re not yet a dominant budget cost.

His piece *will* be used by Scott Walker in Wisconsin to justify slashing spending there. It really, really needs to be countered.

43

L2P 04.06.15 at 10:33 pm

“Didn’t tuition at California public universities also increase a lot from the 70s (starting from a base of free about that time) through the 80s? “

Only slightly. In 1976 fees were ~$600/year. In 1986 fees were ~$1600. In 1996 fees were ~$4,300. Those are actual prices, btw; it’s just keeping up with inflation during that period.

44

L2P 04.06.15 at 10:38 pm

“I asked him how he would explain that despite the alleged “glut” of unemployed or underpaid lawyers, legal services in this country are still essentially unaffordable to the vast majority of the population.”

Because even if we had infinite numbers of lawyers it still takes at least $5,000 to take on a case? Unless you’re literally indigent, it takes at least $1000 just to represent yourself anywhere except small claims and tenancy courts.

I bet you also think that if only we had more doctors everybody could get a free liver transplant. And everybody would have a mansion if only we had more carpenters!

45

Chris Grant 04.06.15 at 10:50 pm

Cal-State (*not* UC) Tuition & Fees in 1977-78 were $195 per academic year.

46

Bloix 04.06.15 at 11:23 pm

#41 – You say that “The decline in state funding explains skyrocketing costs for public university tuition. What explains the astronomical increases in private tuition?”

If there are two similar phenomena and someone posits an explanation for A that clearly does not explain B, the likelihood that the explanation is valid for A is greatly reduced.

E.g., “Beer makes you drunk because it’s got hops!” Well, but wine has no hops. Ergo, hops probably isn’t what gives beer its intoxicating property. We should look for something that is shared by beer and wine.

If private tuition is going up as fast as public, then cut-backs in public funding probably aren’t the cause of rises in public tuition.

So what is the quality that is shared by public and private universities? The answer, I hypothesize, is guaranteed student loans. To put it another way, tuitions go up because they can.

That is, there is a market in education. Both public and private sellers, being rational revenue-maximizing actors, set the price of their product as high as the market will bear. This price is grotesquely distorted by the availability of government-guaranteed loans to horribly naïve borrowers from lenders who do no underwriting, and in fact are barred by law from doing any underwriting. The result is that prices rise inexorably, as the sellers yearly test for the top of the market and find that there is no top.

What the universities do with the money is a different question. Private universities may use it to pay administrators and build fancy gyms (they can’t pay it to shareholders, as most of them have none, so they spend it.) Public universities may use it to plug the hole of funding cuts. But the amount that the school does charge is what it can charge, and that figure need not bear relationship to the cost of providing the education.

What about faculty salaries? Why don’t these go up? Again, the price is set in the market. The universities pay as little for instruction as they can. And again, there are market distortions.

One is that the universities accept many more grad students than could ever be absorbed as permanent faculty members, in order to keep their own faculty busy and to provide TA’s for classes. To some extent, student loan money makes this possible (although many grad students pay nothing or reduced tuition). And grad students are, again, naïve consumers, who don’t truly understand the horrors of the adjunct life that most of them are preparing themselves for. So too many of them go to grad school. The resulting overproduction of PhD’s makes the market for professors a buyers’ market..

Another market distortion is that students are ignorant consumers who are unable to judge the quality of the instruction they receive and may even judge the quality perversely, rating easy, superficial instruction as better than rigorous, disciplined, and demanding instruction.

Both these factors allow universities to substitute overworked, underpaid, and rate-my-professor-fearing adjunct faculty for tenured and tenure-track faculty who have the ability to put the necessary time and effort into teaching. Not that they do, as they have no incentive to do so other than their consciences, but at least they have the resources to do it.

These are hypotheses and boy they might be wrong. As I said up at #7, I would like to see some numbers projecting what public university tuition would look like if administrative costs had been held to a constant percentage of expenditures. This is not easy data to obtain and crunch, and it’s beyond my abilities and resources to do it.

47

Bruce Wilder 04.06.15 at 11:27 pm

It seems to me that it is perfectly sensible to normalize revenues and expenditures per student, and especially appropriate, if we are concerned with the extent to which tuition increases are attributable to a reduction in public funding. That Campos scoffs at this, as if this convention was creating some sort of shell game, is not to his credit.

Increasing administrative costs does deserve more attention as a factor in the both the cost and structure of higher education.

Increased compensation for the highest level of administration — the higher ed equivalent of the C-suite — ought to be a concern, but that phenomenon is hardly isolated or endogenous to academia. Rising compensation for the executive class is destroying the economy; if anything, academia lags significantly behind the general trend. The predatory capitalists inhabiting boards of trustees and advisory committees and sports are a significant source of contagion. Some parts of the system — sports — seem close to collapse already and some areas of research spending may already be hopelessly corrupt.

Two other factors driving administrative costs include the oft-mentioned shift from full-time, tenure-track faculty toward the use of under-paid, over-worked adjuncts as well as the financial aid offsets to increased tuition. Both these developments entail increased administrative resources. The political implications of both are malleable. The senior faculty might be irritated, or not. The parents and student bodies might be irritated or mollified, depending on how things are managed.

48

gianni 04.06.15 at 11:33 pm

@41 – the question of the rising cost of private schools is quite interesting, and a different set of issues from the publics.

Among many of the more competitive private schools, the high ticker price for a semester is often used to communicate that said school offers an ‘elite’ education. So ‘it is known’ that the best colleges charge an amount approaching (even exceeding) 40k year, so if you want to be in that league, you charge that much.

University education is, at this level especially, something of a positional good, so this is not as absurd as it may at first seem.

Now the most well known schools could admit most/all of their students for free and easily find the money elsewhere. Instead, the prefer to charge the high sticker price to those that can pay, and then be incredibly generous when it comes to financial aid (patting themselves on the back for it). This is probably the smartest move from a PR perspective, as the Buzzfeed headline ‘Harvard finally admits it is wealthy enough to not charge tuition’ writes itself.

The schools in the next ‘tier’ or whatever – I’ll hold off on specifics – they price themselves at the level of a Harvard and market themselves to the class who can really pay for a college degree. The general un-attainability of that degree gives it its halo effect, its special something.

We can think of a few groups who would pay top level price for a ‘2nd tier’ school. 1) the wealthy, who can and will pay for this sort of distinction; 2) those who have been saving away for college for 20 years or so, who are deeply committed to spending that large sum on a noteworthy degree, and are therefore easy prey to the college’s branding and PR because of a certain variant of the sunk cost fallacy; and 3) the ambitious who will pay using loans, funded by their high-paying job post-graduation. Each of these is a sketch, of course, but we can imagine how each is, in their own way, susceptible to over-paying for a good brand on their diploma.

At the end of the day, we are talking about expanding access to something that has become a positional good. That comes with some complications.

49

Sebastian H 04.06.15 at 11:58 pm

Gianni comes closest.

College education has a large positional component–i.e. much of the value is not intrinsic, but is rather gained from one person having it and another person NOT having it. This plays out both on a college educated/not-college educated scale scale, and on a scale of various ‘ranked’ colleges.

College education is also government subsidized in the US, through government guaranteed loans. Since college education has a large positional component, those with money will tend to bid the price up in order to have a degree that is ‘better’ than that held by poorer people. Poorer people will take large loans out, which are given freely by the government. This allows the price war to continue upward. Colleges could use the money to educate more students. But largely they don’t. They increase the amenities, they hire more non-teaching staff, and in hundreds of other ways they capture the government subsidy rather than allowing it to actually lower costs. This plays out every year as a drastically increasing price.

That is the dynamic. The particulars of where this money is spent varies from school to school.

Gianni is very likely correct about the halo effect to 2nd and 3rd tier schools.

You can’t adequately analyze the problem if you don’t notice the positional component. (It ties into inequality much the same way. It isn’t that poorer people can’t get good educations. It is that they can’t get positionally good enough diplomas–an entirely different thing.)

50

SamChevre 04.07.15 at 12:37 am

Bruce Wilder @ 47

It seems to me that it is perfectly sensible to normalize revenues and expenditures per student, and especially appropriate, if we are concerned with the extent to which tuition increases are attributable to a reduction in public funding.

Whether this is sensible depends on what question we are answering.

From the university’s perspective, it probably makes sense.

From a social perspective, though, the question is often “if we provide a subsidy of $x for college education, how would it be best used?”

For that, subsidies per potential student are a better measure. You can provide a free education to 10% of the population, or a “you pay 80%” education to 50% of the population. Which makes more sense? You can provide some subsidy to all students regardless of school (Pell Grants), or large subsidies to those at some schools (state universities) and no subsidies to those at others. Which makes more sense?

51

Warren Terra 04.07.15 at 12:58 am

Revenues and expenditures per student is problematic, because universities do things other than educate students, especially undergraduates. Maybe you could come up with a formula that included number of postgraduate students, further broken down by degree and general area (arts, physical sciences, medicine, law, etcetera), number of postdoctoral researchers, size of sports program, etcetera – but it won’t be simple.

On the other hand, a lot of those goals other than undergraduate education are intended to be self-funding (for example by research grants, or in the case of sports by television contract); in theory they sort-of cancel out. It still makes sense to normalize some things to student body size; tuition revenue, obviously, but also including state funding (last time I looked, it’s common for states to basically provide funding equal to the number of in-state students multiplied by the amount of in-state tuition discount), and possibly including spending on faculty (keeping in mind that a lot of faculty in the sciences pay their own salary from grants, and medical faculty likely earn their salary on the wards). B

52

Matt 04.07.15 at 2:14 am

As for Campos, I wouldn’t trust anything from the man given his arguments on obesity (The Obesity Myth); a contrarian patchwork of overstatement, straw men, and false correlation.

For what it’s worth, it’s my understanding that it was _exactly_ Campos’s writing on obesity that made the Lawyers, Guns and Money bloggers want him to blog there. I think that says a bit about the shape of the ship that’s run there.

53

Susan D. Einbinder, PhD 04.07.15 at 4:57 am

Faculty at all 23 California State University campuses in the state are represented by our union, the California Faculty ASsociation: CFA just published three white papers illustrating increases in administration positions and salaries and concomitant declines in faculty salaries and the proportion of full-time, tenure-level faculty showing very clearly that faculty compensation has not been responsible for increased costs. Faculty just got a 1.3 percent raise – the first since 2008, when CSU faculty salaries were already 20 percent below the national average: That year, the state suspended our 5 percent raise in our contract; the year after, faculty voluntarily went on furlough and decreased our salaries 10 percent across the board. During this time, student fees increased and a significant number of campuses have introduced a “new” campus fee that raised the costs of higher education by going around fees (tuition). Staff salaries are, of course, even worse, but most adjuncts are protected by the union, for what that is worth.

Too bad Campos did not think to access and use this important resource. Here are links to the first two of four (the third and fourth are being released soon):

Race to the Bottom: CSU’s 10-Year Failure to Fund its Core Mission
http://www.calfac.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/race_to_the_bottom–csus_10-year_failure_to_fund_its_core_mission.pdf

Race to the Bottom: Salary, Staffing Priorities and the 1 Percent http://www.calfac.org/post/race-bottom-1

54

Trader Joe 04.07.15 at 11:49 am

@48 re 41 why private school rate increases are so high

I agree largely with what Gianni has said @48 and also with many points @46. The schools charge what they can and what their reputation will bear.

Someone upthread noted the importance of looking at “net” vs. “gross” tuition and one who is currently working through this process this is critically important. In my own experience (100% anecdata) private schools are quicker to charge a high “gross” tuition and then outright discount it for students they want so the $40k tuition quickly becomes $20 or $25k and then loans and other financial arrangements are made from there. By contrast, I see relatively less tuition cutting on public schools and more emphasis on grants, loans and other packages of tuition offsets.

The end result, again only in my experience, is that the resulting pricing is that comparable schools end up charging rougly comparable tuitions – higher ranked schools tend to be able to charge a bit more, lower ranked schools (and particularly those where enrollment has been flat) tend to extract a little less.

As gianni noted, none of this seems to have much relationship to what the cost to educate might be, it seems to be some alchemy of the reputation of the school and how much can the kid/parent afford…..in the end, something that far more resembles airline pricing than a posted-price market.

55

Mdc 04.07.15 at 3:42 pm

Net tuition at private 4-year schools has fallen since 2007.

In a need-blind admission, full-need met, need-only aid context (which is virtually extinct), the high price/high aid model can be beautifully redistributive- from each according to their ability to pay.

56

TM 04.07.15 at 4:32 pm

rea 35 and L2P 43: You are responding to my statement that “legal services in this country are still essentially unaffordable to the vast majority of the population”. Interestingly you are not disputing my claim but what is your point?
rea the $1000 case that takes a week’s hard work to win isn’t anywhere near typical. And L2P why would it be that it “takes at least $5000 to take on a case”? Most cases don’t even go to trial. But when lawyers charge $5000 just to send a few letters, we have a problem. Not the lawyers, but the rest of us, yes we do.

“I bet you also think that if only we had more doctors everybody could get a free liver transplant.” No. But both medical services and legal services are way more expensive in this country than elsewhere and doctors and lawyers are not without blame for this state of affairs.

57

TM 04.07.15 at 4:43 pm

I should add that it’s at least three areas – health care, law, and of course education – where the US stands out in international comparison for being exorbitantly expensive. These may be entirely different phenomena but I suspect there are quite a few similarities. I wonder if anybody has a plausible theory that covers all three.

58

Erik 04.07.15 at 5:38 pm

I used to be a manager/administrator (classified as MSP – management & senior professionals) at the University of California (not the CSU). I was a computer programmer. A lot of critics of the administration/management of the UC will use the count of those classified as MSPs as evidence of the growth of admin/management there. While it may be true that staff positions have grown at the UC, it also true a lot of these “managers” are not proper managers, but rather well paid professionals (programmers, technicians, etc.)

I suspect this may be true of other universities as well. In any case, it has made me pretty skeptical of the idea that the rise in management is the cause of the rise in tuition.

59

L2P 04.07.15 at 6:40 pm

“Interestingly you are not disputing my claim but what is your point?”

To refresh your recollection (that’s Lawyer Speak!)

1. You argued that Campos said there were too many attorneys, but legal services cost too must for most people so mumble mumble something, possibly that we don’t have too many attorneys? Hard to say exactly, but somehow Campos was wrong about something.

2. We remind you that the number of attorneys has nothing to do with the cost of legal services.

3. You now say that’s not the point because lawyers have something to do with many people being unable to afford legal services because mumble mumble mumble. And mumble!!!! Don’t forget mumble!!!!!

So let’s break this down!

1. The private cost of legal services IS, INDEED, too high for the average person in all but life or death situations (criminal, divorce, UD, stuff like that.)

2. The private cost of legal services has a floor that has nothing to do with the number of attorneys offering to do work, and that floor is well beyond what the average person can pay.

3. So moving on to your NEW point (the fees are too damn high!), there is no way on God’s green earth for the private sector to provide legal services to the average person. It will cost an entire year’s salary for the average person to litigate any but the easiest of cases even if the lawyer charges nothing except covering costs – literally working for free.

4. If you don’t believe me, look at any public interest firms spending on cases.

5. In sum, you’re an idiot.

60

TM 04.07.15 at 6:55 pm

L2P, you are being ridiculous. You want us to believe that the cost of legal services has nothing to do with the amount that lawyers happen to charge? The “floor” is set by what, the immutable laws of physics?

I happen to have extensive experience with the legal profession – more than I ever bargained for to be frank. The claim that exorbitant fees are just “covering cost” and that it would hardly make a difference if lawyers worked for free is just absurd. Come up with a better story.

61

AcademicLurker 04.07.15 at 6:58 pm

@59:

I sometimes wonder whether treating legal services like insurance would work. A group of people pools together to have an attorney on “retainer”, with the understanding that most may never actually need her services. I guess the trouble is keeping people from using the services unless they really need them. Despite what right wing hacks and libertarians seem to think, very few people go to the doctor’s office for fun. But people might well start indulging in legal BS just because they can.

62

TM 04.07.15 at 7:11 pm

Legal insurance does exist and I think is very useful. Of course the coverage is very limited. Part of the problem with legal services is actually similar to health care: the incentives of both lawyers and doctors work against cost containment.

63

Zamfir 04.07.15 at 7:19 pm

@ academiclurker, legale insurance has its problems. It adds a layer of complication to already complicated situations: the insurer pushes to settle the case too early, the insured push to keep going too far. Both happen in practice.

And professionals who often deal with legal situations can smell when a legal service is provided by an insurer, and they will play to cut a deal early.

The trouble here is that if you hardly ever you a legal service, you will also lack the expertise to judge the quality of a legal insurer.

Labour unions can work well as legal insurer (for workplace cases). They still have the pressure to keep costs down, but also a wider reputation to protect. And in my experience, their lawyers are a tad more driven than those of insurers.

Another game are the lawyers of insurance firms… I know companies who insure certain risks, not because of the risk itself, but because of the potential cost of legal issues. Better to turn over the risk to the insurer (and their reinsurer), who is much better in lawyering up. And quite often, the reinsurer finds that it covers both parties in the issue, and settles with itself.

64

SamChevre 04.07.15 at 7:27 pm

I sometimes wonder whether treating legal services like insurance would work.

There’s a small market for this in the US, but it’s my understanding that this is a very common form of insurance in Great Britain. (Where it is more obviously necessary because of the loser pays rules.)

65

Matt 04.07.15 at 7:34 pm

A couple of years ago I visited the campus of the SLAC where I completed my undergraduate degree for the first time in a decade. I barely recognized it: there were many gorgeous new buildings and many older buildings had experienced large renovations. This is not an institution that could live off its endowments. Over the same decade the tuition sticker price went up by ~60%. With a combination of scholarships and a few generous relatives I managed to graduate without student loan debt. I doubt that someone with the same advantages could do the same today. I think I got the better deal, even if the library wasn’t an open, airy architectural delight of color and light when I was a student.

Of course this is just more anecdata.

Is anyone out there collecting longitudinal data about budgets within higher education, where the money goes and where it grows? One good spreadsheet should be worth several hundred pages of narrative-construction.

66

AcademicLurker 04.07.15 at 7:43 pm

It’s one of the perennial mysteries of academia that, no matter hire dire the budget situation supposedly is, there is somehow always money for a new building.

67

Mdc 04.07.15 at 7:48 pm

Relatively, buildings are incredibly easy to fundraise for. (Especially if they can be named!)

68

The Temporary Name 04.07.15 at 8:34 pm

It’s one of the perennial mysteries of academia that, no matter hire dire the budget situation supposedly is, there is somehow always money for a new building.

I had to strike for my raise. Ever-growing managerial salaries, however, are mandated in the policies of the institution.

69

TM 04.07.15 at 10:01 pm

“Is anyone out there collecting longitudinal data about budgets within higher education, where the money goes and where it grows?”

The funny thing is there is hardly any part of the economy better documented than higher education. There are extensive, publicly accessible data sets about salaries, tuition, student numbers, state spending, and on and on, both at the state and federal levels (IPEDS). And experts still don’t agree on what causes the cost explosion, or even whether there is a cost explosion. Go figure.

70

Kathleen Lowrey 04.07.15 at 10:41 pm

Possibly relevant: the author of this blog posting is an Associate Vice-Provost at UC-Davis (or at least was until recently).

71

blavag 04.08.15 at 12:09 am

Lets not kid ourselves about the political nature of problems in public higher education funding.
For data see Chris Newfield here:
http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/
His critique of “new university” programs here:
http://lareviewofbooks.org/review/new-new-american-university/

and his Unmaking the Public University
http://www.amazon.com/Unmaking-Public-University-Forty-Year-Assault/dp/0674060369/

72

medrawt 04.08.15 at 3:48 am

TM –
The reason a glut of undermployed lawyers can’t satisfy the masses of underlawyered needy folks is in large part (and the part relevant to this post) because the glut of underemployed lawyers are carrying an enormous debt which they will never pay off making a career out of lawyering for folks who can’t afford legal services. Can some individuals pilot a way through that mess and build a practice? Probably. But that’s not really going to be feasible for the average undermployed law school grad carrying around over $100k in debt plus interest. From a strictly financial POV (setting aside the other challenges [including outlaw of money!] implied in setting up a solo practice, especially one dedicated primarily to serving the needy) even those freshly minted lawyers to whom the idea occurs are going to figure they have better options, including, ultimately, nonlaw work.

73

me 04.08.15 at 1:19 pm

Two years ago I attended a seminar by a health education economist who noted that tuition inflation at US universities had been pegged, for a couple of decades, to the rise in median family income.

As long as the latter kept increasing, the education consumer could be expected to absorb the increased tuition. And s/he did. Meanwhile, in this environment state legislators were happy to unload the cost burden onto the shoulders of families and received relatively little push back from voters, principally because their cuts only affected the poors.

Then one day, median family incomes stopped rising.

74

TM 04.08.15 at 2:58 pm

72: Your point surely has some validity, and it’s of course no coincidence that civilized countries where people aren’t bankrupted by either legal fees or health care costs also tend to educate their lawyers and doctors at public expense. But still I’m skeptical when I hear about a glut of lawyers desperate to pay back their debts but charging say $100 an hour as opposed to $200 or $300 somehow is not an option. And no there aren’t that many nonlaw options that pay better than that.

75

rea 04.08.15 at 3:19 pm

a glut of lawyers desperate to pay back their debts but charging say $100 an hour as opposed to $200 or $300 somehow is not an option

It is not that it isn’t an option–it’s that it doesn’t help. If your lawyer charges you $100 per hr. (I actually often charge less) you only get 10 hours of work for a thousand dollars. There are not too many cases I’m physically capable of handling on a 10-hour budget. If you need a hundred hours of attorney work, you’re out of pocket $10,000.

76

Martin Bento 04.08.15 at 6:41 pm

L2p, the statistics you cite give a cumulative price increase over 20 years of 717 %. The cumulative CPI increase over that period (measured September to September) was 273%. Tuition was therefore increasing at almost three times the inflation rate, rather more than keeping pace with it. I think the recent increases relative to inflation dwarf this, however.

77

Dr. Hilarius 04.08.15 at 7:01 pm

TM: Most law school graduates are not capable of independently practicing law unless they were in a clinical law program. Law today is highly specialized, be it criminal defense or estate planning. It can take years of experience to develop reasonable competency in some fairly narrow area of law. Competent attorneys are reluctant to take on clients in an unfamiliar practice area because it takes too long to reach competence. Either the lawyer works for free in getting up to speed or the client pays. If you get a bad outcome you may be looking at a malpractice suit no matter how little you charged the client.

Even if the lawyer works at a greatly reduced rate, experts, court reporters, investigators and paralegals expect to be paid. Good paralegals often make more than many attorneys.

Legal problems are usually adversarial which means costs are not under the control of one party. The other side can be unreasonable or even frivolous in driving up costs. You can win at the trial level and still have to fight appeals.

You are correct that most cases don’t go to trial. Trial is easy compared to getting prepared for trial. Cases are won on preparation more than brilliant trial tactics. Trip preparation is time intensive.

The legal system is slow and congested. This morning I was in court for four hours to do a 15-minute hearing. On a criminal case motion I can wait half a day only to be told that the calendar is overset and the motion has to be continued to next month. (Most criminal practitioners charge a flat fee per case because clients won’t tolerate paying for hours of useless wait time. The flat fee has to be high enough to account for the uncertainty of time needed to complete even a “routine” case.)

As rea at 74 points out, a little money really isn’t sufficient to do anything in most cases. And most people have no money budgeted for legal costs.

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Dr. Hilarius 04.08.15 at 7:02 pm

Trip = Trial. Sorry.

79

TM 04.08.15 at 8:09 pm

It is all well and good to point to factors outside the lawyer’s control but it’s way too easy to pretend that that is the whole story. In the lawyer-client relationship the lawyer is by far in the stronger position and their incentives are not exactly aligned with those of the client. In the vast majority of cases, the lawyer gets paid not only whether or not they lose but also whether or not they are competent. (*) As of malpractice lawsuits, come on. How is the lay client supposed to be able to prove malpractice, and what lawyer is going to take such a case?

(*) In my anecdotal experience, I found it frustratingly common that lawyers – both sides’ layers as well as the judge – couldn’t care less about the details of the case. They mixed up numbers and dates, ignored documentation prepared by the client, and so on. It would go too far off-topic to expand this further. The point is that there is neither quality control nor accountability from the point of view of the client. The way the system works is that lawyers can charge high rates just because and the client either pays up or gets lost. I find it tiring (to get back to where this thread originated) to witness these lawyer debates (“is law school worth the money” etc.) where lawyers are painted as victims and the interest of the general public in affordable legal services isn’t even mentioned in passing. Apparently we are supposed to accept that the legal system exists for the benefit of lawyers and corporations and any suggestion that it should serve the public is to be ridiculed.

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