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Scrutiny Over College Governance As Tuition Costs Continue To Soar

By Kirsten Gibson, Guest Contributor  

"Scrutiny Over College Governance As Tuition Costs Continue To Soar"

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The formation of a new commission to review colleges’ governing boards and make recommendations for change will be announced on Thursday.

The commission, formed by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, will consist of “current and former college presidents and board members, business leaders, faculty representatives, association leaders, and industry experts” and publish a report by September 2014, according to the Washington Post. Governing boards are charged with ensuring the overarching missions of universities, but they have been accused of conducting business without transparency and coming to conclusions that are at odds with what students and faculty want.

Former Tennessee governor Philip N. Bredesen Jr. (D), leader of the commission, told the Post that a specific areas for reform haven’t been decided. But there are plenty of problems within higher education that the commission can look at.

The most glaring is the cost of attending college. In 2012, tuition rose an average of more than 8 percent. It’s hard to find a simple solution to the multi-faceted problem. Higher education officials point to a decrease in state funding for the sharp increase in costs. For example, from 2008 to 2013 Arizona cut higher ed funding by more than 36 percent.

Faculty members, however, allege that those same officials that blame state legislators are the real source of rising costs. Administrative positions have risen by 54 percent in the past decade. The atmosphere of higher education has also changed drastically over time, and public schools are competing for the best and the brightest. While their tactics to lure those students can be conventional, touting world-class researchers and nationally ranked programs, they also include superfluous benefits such as gourmet food offerings, million-dollar recreational facilities, and “free” music downloads. Additionally, costs to fund athletic programs have grown twice as fast as those of academic programs at some schools.

Rising tuition and costs contribute to the enormous amount of debt students take on, which is now more than $1 trillion dollars, surpassing credit card debt. And the U.S. higher education system has been deemed a “risky investment” because it doesn’t provide centralized standards or a clear path for students to responsibly decide where to spend their precious dollars.

Kirsten Gibson is an intern for ThinkProgress.

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