Today at Central Bucks West High School in Doylestown, Pa., Vice President Joe Biden touted the importance of higher education for our nation’s future and discussed how the rising cost of college has put the American dream out of reach for many students. He arrived a little late and spoke for nearly 90 minutes, delighting the students, who were undoubtedly proud to host the Vice President and glad for a respite from their Friday morning classes. This was a great opportunity to bring the issue of higher education to the forefront, and Vice President Biden gave a personal, impassioned speech about his experiences and that of his family. During his talk, Vice President Biden noted that tuition prices have risen at public universities and
attributed those hikes to cuts from the state. He explained how he was able to afford financing his children’s college educations – by borrowing against his home, an option that is no longer available to many families that are underwater on their mortgages. He also noted that crushing debt levels have made careers in teaching and the nonprofit industry unattractive for new graduates.
After his prepared remarks, Vice President Biden took questions from the crowd, including one from a parent wanting to know his take on the escalating cost of college. Biden credited increased tuition costs, in part, to the high pay of professors. He then told an anecdote of when his son, who was considering pursuing a Ph.D. in English, looked at a faculty job in the early 1990s. The starting salary at that time, according to Biden, would have been $39,000. He then drew a parallel to his more recent (and much higher) pay as an adjunct law professor and concluded that faculty salaries had gone up significantly in the past two decades, causing the tuition bubble. (Ed. note — This paragraph has been updated to reflect that Biden’s son did not receive a Ph.D., and was only thinking of earning one.)
Unfortunately, we have to disagree with Vice President Biden’s analysis. For a starting faculty member in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, the salary is a little less than $45,000 a year. Factoring in inflation, this is actually much less than what his son was offered in the early ‘90s.
As our members and students know, the State System remains a good value for the tuition dollar.
We’d humbly suggest that higher education policymakers look instead at the growth in administrative positions and salaries over the past two decades. We are glad the Obama administration is raising the issue of higher education by sending Vice President Biden out to talk with students and parents about it. We’d love if they’d talk with faculty members, too. We have a lot to contribute to the conversation.
To follow live Tweets from the Vice President’s visit to Central Bucks West High School, check out the #VPatCB hashtag.
“Biden to CB students: You’re the ‘most incredible generation’,” Doylestown Intelligencer, January 13, 2012
UPDATE: A scholar at George Washington University, quoted in today’s Christian Science Monitor, cited state budget cuts as “the biggest problem right now”: