Lighter Teaching Loads for Faculty Contribute to Rising College Costs

The rising cost of college can’t be blamed just on dwindling state appropriations or inflation, according to a report released on Wednesday by Education Sector and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. A decline in the teaching loads of tenured and tenure-track faculty members also plays a role, it says, driving up tuition costs by an average of $2,598 for students at four-year colleges over a seven-year period it studied.

The report, called “Selling Students Short: Declining Teaching Loads at Colleges and Universities,” says the decline in teaching loads “has had a dramatic influence on the spiraling costs of higher education.”

The report’s author, Andrew Gillen, who is Education Sector’s research director, says that examining why teaching loads have become lighter despite greater instructional needs could provide relief for students and families who are struggling to keep pace with tuition increases.

The average number of classes taught by a tenured or tenure-track faculty member decreased by 25 percent—from 3.6 to 2.7 courses per term—from the 1987-88 to the 2003-4 academic year, according to the report. If teaching loads had not become lighter, the report states, more than half of the tuition increases during that time could have been avoided.

“Colleges can—and must—take steps on their own to stem the ever-increasing rate of tuition increases,” Mr. Gillen said in a news release. “Increasing teaching loads, even marginally, can have a tremendous impact on cost.”

The report acknowledges that it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on how reduced teaching loads affect tuition because colleges have a number of ways of responding when a professor’s teaching load is lowered. Those include dropping the course offering, expanding other sections of the course, hiring an adjunct to teach it, or hiring another full-time faculty member to teach it. <Read more.>

Via Sydni Dunn, The Chronicle of Higher Ed.