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ALMOST EVERYONE AGREES that colleges have become increasingly costly to attend and are a growing burden on society to finance. Rising tuition costs threaten the ability and desire of students to attend college. Are there things that can be done to significantly reduce the cost of college? The answer is emphatically “yes.” The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) identified 25 ways to reduce college costs and has produced an extensive book-length study to explore them and point the way to achieving significant cost reductions for those sincerely interested in making college more affordable and accessible to members of American society.

Full Report

Click here to download a pdf of the entire report “25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College.”

Click here to download a pdf of a summary of the report.

Section 1: Use Lower Cost Alternatives

Chapter 1: Encourage More Students to Attend Community College

Abstract: The average cost of educating a person at a community college is markedly lower than that of four year institutions. Tuition levels for students are seldom much more than one-half of what they are at four-year schools, and governmental subsidies per student tend to be lower as well. A very significant savings in overall college costs could occur simply by increasing the proportion of Americans attending lower cost schools, including for-profit proprietary institutions…
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Chapter 2: Promote Dual Enrollment Programs

Abstract: Many educators would agree that for many students, the senior year in high school is a waste. Certainly there are numerous bright and ambitious high school students capable of doing college level work while in high school—sometimes in the junior or even sophomore year. Students who earn a good deal of college credit in high school can sometimes reduce their college baccalaureate years to three—saving nearly 25 percent in direct costs and, just as importantly, giving an additional year of productive full-time labor…
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Chapter 3: Reform Academic Employment Policies

Abstract: A major cost item for universities is the cost of instructors. Costs for adjunct faculty are relatively low, but senior tenure-track faculty are very expensive; at a few universities, salaries for full professors (including fringe benefits) rise to as high as an average of $200,000 annually. A large portion of faculty receive tenure, the equivalent of a lifetime employment contract. A decision to award tenure often means making a financial commitment with a discounted present value of two million dollars or more. Hardly any other occupation offers such an extraordinary employment arrangement…
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Chapter 4: Offer three year Bachelor’s Degrees

Abstract: The bachelor’s degree in European universities is designated as a three-year program under the Bologna Process. Shorter time to completion of a degree dramatically reduces college costs—perhaps as much as 25 percent. The question is whether the benefits of a fourth year of college training exceed the costs. Do “diminishing returns” set in so that the fourth year of instruction involves only modest extensions of the basic knowledge imparted earlier? The answer to this question no doubt varies between program, schools, and even students. Still, there is little scientific basis for the conventional opinion that four years is the optimal period of collegiate study…
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Chapter 5: Outsource More Services

Abstract: Colleges and universities are ostensibly in the business of producing and distributing knowledge. Yet huge portions of universities are given over to doing other things: running food and lodging operations, hospitals, recreational centers, building repair and maintenance, high school education (remedial education), entertainment operations (especially intercollegiate sports), information technology services, etc. Many of these operations could be more efficiently provided by specialists in those activities. Many colleges have made some progress in this area, especially in food services, but vastly more can be done…
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Section 2: Use Fewer Resources

Chapter 6: Reduce Administrative Staff

Abstract: Recent studies by Daniel Bennett of CCAP, by Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas, and by the Delta Cost Project substantiate what many faculty have long claimed: administrative costs are soaring at universities, mainly through the growth of staff, though also by large increases in compensation, particularly at the highest levels. For example, from 1997 to 2007, the proportion of full-time equivalent employees in the categories “executive, administrative, and managers” and “other professionals” rose from 22.6 percent to 26.1 percent, continuing a trend that had begun still earlier…
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Chapter 7: Cut Unnecessary Programs

Abstract: In university environments, it is painful and politically explosive to try to eliminate programs. Professors expecting lifetime employment security fiercely fight these measures, often with the support of sympathetic and powerful faculty members and administrators. Sometimes alumni get into the act. Yet, a dynamic society needs change. Majors that once flourished now have few students. Programs that were fashionable a generation ago are now viewed as outmoded. Resources need to be freed up for new areas of academic inquiry based on technological advances, changing income and tastes, etc…
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Chapter 8: End the “Athletics Arms Race”

Abstract: There is remarkably little evidence that the massive subsidies to intercollegiate athletics (ICA) have had significant positive spillover effects for universities in the form of greater financial support, improved recruitment of students, higher national rankings, etc. There is abundant evidence, however, that only a handful of ICA programs break even, and that subsidies for these programs have grown rapidly—as much as 15 percent in some years—fueled by soaring costs for coaches, more elaborate facilities, etc…
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Chapter 9: Overhaul the FAFSA

Abstract: Students wanting to obtain federal student financial assistance must complete the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which is also used for making decisions on financial aid by others, notably the colleges themselves. In the 2009-10 academic year, the number of questions on the FAFSA form exceeded 100. Susan Dynarski and others have argued the marginal gain in knowledge about applicants from having an elaborate form was far more than offset by the adverse impact that the complexity of the form had on students’ willingness to apply, particularly in the case of low-income families…
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Chapter 10: Eliminate Excessive Academic Research

Abstract: Universities have two major academic functions: the dissemination of knowledge (i.e. teaching), and the creation of it through research. There is a strong bias in the academy to emphasize research at the expense of teaching. Faculty promotions are heavily research-based. Widely circulated research results create a national reputation, whereas the reputation for good teaching tends to be localized. Universities improve their ranking in the U.S. News & World Report or Times Higher Education World Rankings by emphasizing research. Salary increases for faculty have averaged more in the highly research-intensive universities than in other institutions…
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Chapter 11: Streamline Redundant Programs at the State Level

Abstract: One of the strengths of American higher education is the diverse number of institutions, all following a slightly different path to their mission. This diversity gives students more choices and increases competition, but it also sometimes leads to expensive duplication of effort and resulting inefficiencies. Universities are run by empire-building humans who engage in mission creep, adding degrees and majors, often without fully considering the duplication of effort involved…
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Chapter 12: Promote collaborative purchasing

Abstract: Private companies like Wal-Mart use their enormous purchasing power to negotiate low prices from suppliers. Colleges that band together to buy goods and services can often obtain lower prices on goods and services used than if they buy separately. Agreements can be made between institutions on a bilateral or multi-lateral basis, through statewide agreements, or even by regional agreements involving schools in many states. The distinction between “state” and “private” institutions need not be important here, with small private liberal arts colleges joining larger state universities to try to get the benefits of large-scale purchasing…
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Section 3: Efficiently Use Resources

Chapter 13: Improve Facility Utilization

Abstract: Compare the use of building space at a typical private business and a university. The private business usually uses most space at least 50 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and often more than that—well over 2,000 hours annually. By contrast, large amounts of campus building space is occupied perhaps 25 hours a week, perhaps 32 weeks a year—800 hours a year. (This problem is less prevalent at for-profit universities operating with strong financial incentives to maximize facility utilization.) In the long run, using facilities more intensely will reduce the need for new buildings, reducing capital and maintenance costs noticeably…
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Chapter 14: Increase Teaching Loads

Abstract: The corollary to the tenth point on eliminating some academic research is to increase teaching loads. At research universities in the United States between 1988 and 2004, it is estimated that teaching loads fell 42 percent. Even in private liberal arts colleges that pride themselves on their attention to instruction, those loads fell 32 percent. William Massy and Robert Zemsky have talked about an “academic rachet” effect, and the impact of this on instructional costs is huge, as demonstrated above…
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Chapter 15: Encourage Timely Degree Completion

Abstract: A large majority of full-time students do not graduate from four-year degree programs on time. Similarly, a huge problem exists with two-year schools. The drop-out rate in general is a national scandal at all levels of academia, including doctoral-level programs. Huge amounts of resources are devoted to giving incomplete educations to students, who often incur large debts and, because they lack a degree, are unable to get a well paying job that will compensate them for their college expenses…
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Section 4: Exploit Technology to Reduce Costs

Chapter 16: Move More Classes Online

Abstract: Calls to increase on-line education often lead to two objections: First, the costs of on-line education are really not lower than traditional education. Second, an increased reliance upon on-line education will lower the overall quality of American higher education. The evidence, however, casts some doubt on the strength of these objections. It is true that, offered to small numbers of students, on-line courses are not necessarily cheap. Yet the for-profit schools have clearly demonstrated that there are enormous economies of scale, and major companies have turned from loss to profit (e.g, Bridgepoint Education, Higher Education Holdings) as scale expands…
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Chapter 17: Reduce the Cost of Textbooks

Abstract: The price of college textbooks has soared over the years. Once an instructor selects a textbook, the publisher has a monopoly position as the only provider of the text, and in recent years they have taken advantage of this to raise prices to the triple digits for many texts. Fortunately, modern technology has helped break down this monopoly…
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Chapter 18: Digitize Academic Libraries

Abstract: The largest building on most great research university campuses is the main library, for no other reason than the warehousing of millions of books takes up enormous amounts of space. Aside from books, libraries spend vast amounts subscribing to thousands of academic journals (usually at a subscription price of several hundred dollars annually). Many books are read or even looked at only rarely, and it is hard to justify their purchase on any cost-benefit basis. The capital costs of library buildings are likewise immense…
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Chapter 19: Outsource Email Services

Abstract: In the course of a generation, email has become the dominant mode of communication, both on campus and between academic personnel and the outside world. Analysis of email costs have suggested that full costs only run $25 per month per user, which for a university with 15,000 students and 2,500 employees is $750,000 for the employees alone, and as much as several million dollars a year for all users, including students. Specialists in information technology services, companies like Google and Microsoft, can usually significantly undercut the costs of in-house systems of email delivery, potentially saving large sums of money. The savings come in the form of lower storage and staffing costs, and reduced costs for servers, archiving and filtering messages…
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Chapter 20: Utilize Course Management Tools

Abstract: The typical professor still teaches pretty much the way Socrates did 2,400 years ago, talking to a group of students in a lecture-discussion session. To be sure, the use of blackboards, PowerPoint, and perhaps some internet-based visuals has jazzed things up a bit. But as Carol Twigg and others have suggested, we have merely added some new technology onto old approaches to teaching. Yet as Michael Clifford has said, today’s students are inhabitants of a new information age, while many of the instructors are merely “immigrants” to new technologies, just learning to assimilate what students already know…
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Section 5: Improve Competition

Chapter 21: Ease the Transfer Process among Public Institutions

Abstract: Americans are a nation of movers, and inter-institutional academic migration is commonplace. In many cases it makes great sense: students save money by transferring to a cheaper school; students transfer to schools better suited to their changing interests; or students transfer to a less rigorous school if they are in danger of flunking out. In other cases, students simply complete a two-year program and transfer to a four-year school…
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Chapter 22: Reform Financial Aid

Abstract: In its 2006 report, the Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education concluded, “The entire financial aid system—including federal, state, institutional and private programs—is confusing, complex, inefficient, duplicative and frequently does not direct aid to students who truly need it.” The Spellings Commission had it right…
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Chapter 23: Reform Accreditation to Reduce Barriers to Entry

Abstract: Accreditation is an information device. Schools that are “accredited” meet at least minimal standards of quality. Unaccredited schools likely have weak academic standards, and some might even be diploma mills that simply give away degrees in return for a cash payment. It is widely accepted that the certification of minimal standards is a generally good idea, but there are legitimate concerns that the existing system of accreditation is far from optimal…
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Chapter 24: Subsidize Students, not Schools

Abstract: Markets do a marvelously effective job of allocating most goods or services because the consequences of decisions to buy and sell goods largely impact those doing the buying and selling—customers benefit from getting goods they like at low prices, and producers benefit from getting more for their product than it cost to make it. Higher education suffers because the consumer–students—often pay only a small portion of the cost while avoiding the consequences of bad decisions. Government subsidies to institutions reduce the role of consumers in resolving classic economic questions…
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Chapter 25: Promote Competition Based on Value, Not Reputation

Abstract: In most areas of human economic endeavor, competition manifests itself in lower prices. If company A has competition from companies B, C, and D in selling a good or service, the competition will lead A to lower prices to fend off loss of sales to B, C, and D. In higher education, however, it seems as if competition leads to higher prices, as schools seemingly “compete” to spend greater sums of money. There seems to be an academic “arms race” resulting in vast increases in spending on, for example, luxurious student recreational facilities, expensive superstar professors, or football coaches…
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