Thank You For Enrolling in College! Please Send an Arm and a Leg for Tuition.

Tuition costs are out of control, college presidents are getting paid bank. What up with that?

college debt
The average student leaves college owing thousands of dollars. (Photo: Reuters)
TakePart News Editor Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is a journalist who has worked in many corners of the world for major news organizations.

Is the president of a university really worth more pay than the president of the free world?

Ball State University President Jo Ann M. Gora earned $984,647 in total compensation last year—about two and a half times what the President of the United States earned in that time.

In fact, the median pay for public college presidents for the school year ending 2012 was $441,392, which means President Barack Obama might want to try running a school after he’s done running our country—if he’s interested in a pay raise from his $400,000 annual salary.

Sure, a lot of leaders are making a ton of money these days—it’s why the phrase “one-percenters” was invented. Though, to be clear, no one begrudges innovators whose success is also making the world a better place: for example, I wish many more billions in profit for the people who invented string cheese and potholders.

But that seems at odds with colleges cashing in on the massive debt an 18-year-old enters into when he sign onto college loans.

The average tuition at a public four-year college has risen more than 250 percent in the last three decades, while a typical family’s income has only gone up 16 percent during that time.

The federal government cites three areas of cost increases at universities and colleges that keep driving up tuition: faculty salaries, administrative salaries (which is where the presidential paycheck comes into play), and “other costs”—which sounds like a slush fund to us.

According to the Department of Education’s most recent Affordability Summary Report from 2011, faculty salaries went up 36 percent over a year, administrative salaries are up 42 percent, and that “other costs” category is up a whopping 79 percent. (Do you hear that noise? Sounds kind of like a washing machine… slush, slush, slush.)

According to the Center for American Progress, the average outstanding student loan tops $25,000 and 10 percent of borrowers owe more than $54,000 in college loans. The current student loan debt, across the country, is believed to have topped $1 trillion.

In its most recent annual report on college affordability, the Department of Education says schools are flummoxed because “they could not foresee how they could lower costs if enrollments continued to grow.” School officials also blame reduced funds from state and federal coffers because of budget cuts during the national recession.

That must be rough.

It would only be a start, but a small step in the right direction might be having school officials stop traveling like rappers when they’re spending student money.

Officials at UCLA were caught enjoying first class flights that cost more than $10,000 and lavish accommodations at the Four Seasons by the Center for Investigative Reporting. They spent about $2 million on travel and entertainment from 2008 to 2012—a period in which tuitions and fees increased by nearly 70 percent.

Despite the complaints and apparent helplessness of college administrators, the real problem isn’t showing up in their massive ledgers, but it’s landing red ink in the pocketbooks of everyday Americans.

President Barack Obama stepped in in 2010 to reform student loans, chopping $60 billion in unnecessary subsidies to private lenders and using that money for low-income student grants and loans made directly to students.

Despite federal intervention, there are still many students who are saddling themselves with debt for decades.

This year, the Obama administration is working on a plan to curb costs by introducing an independent assessment of schools that will inspire schools—in the spirit of competition and transparency—to take a hard look at their costs.

A really hard look, we hope. Holding education hostage for a king’s ransom is no way to build the American middle class and make our country a better place.

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