Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Buying the Best

Buying the Best: Cost Escalation in Elite Higher Education

Charles T. Clotfelter
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 330
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Buying the Best
    Book Description:

    Since the early 1980s, the rapidly increasing cost of college, together with what many see as inadequate attention to teaching, has elicited a barrage of protest.Buying the Bestlooks at the realities behind these criticisms--at the economic factors that are in fact driving the institutions that have been described as machines without brakes. In designing his study, Charles Clotfelter examines the escalation in spending in the arts and sciences at four elite institutions: Harvard, Duke, Chicago, and Carleton. He argues that the rise in costs has less to do with increasing faculty salaries or lowered productivity than with a broad-based effort to improve quality, provide new services to students, pay for large investments in new facilities and equipment (including computers), and ensure access for low-income students through increasingly expensive financial aid.

    In Clotfelter's view, spiraling costs arise from the institutions' lofty ambitions and are made possible by steadily intensifying demand for places in the country's elite colleges and universities. Only if this demand slackens will universities be pressured to make cuts or pursue efficiencies.Buying the Bestis the first study to make use of the internal historical records of specific institutions, as opposed to the frequently unreliable aggregate records made available by the federal government for the use of survey researchers. As such, it has the virtue of allowing Clotfelter to draw much more realistic comparative conclusions than have hitherto been reported. While acknowledging the obvious drawbacks of a small sample, Clotfelter notes that the institutions studied are significant for the disproportionate influence they, and comparable elite institutions, exercise upon research and upon the training of future leaders. The book contains a foreword by William G. Bowen, President of the Mellon Foundation, and Harold T. Shapiro, President of Princeton University.

    "Concern about ever-rising costs runs like a thread through the myriad critiques of higher education that have been published in recent years. . . . One of the great contributions of Clotfelter's work is to dismiss easy explanations for the problems that worry us. With some of the scales removed from their eyes, both those with responsibility for the future of higher education and observers who continue to expect an ever-wider scope of effort from particular colleges and universities, can now adjust their focus. Armed with this original and extremely useful analysis, we can confront more directly (and with less romanticism) the real choices before us as we seek to employ limited resources most effectively in the service of teaching and research."-William G. Bowen, President, Mellon Foundation, Harold T. Shapiro, President, Princeton University, from the foreword

    Originally published in 1996.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6427-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-x)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. xi-xii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    William G. Bowen and Harold T. Shapiro

    As observers of American higher education, and as staunch believers in the importance of evidence, we are delighted to introduce this important study of trends in institutional costs prepared so thoughtfully and meticulously by Charles Clotfelter. Concern about ever-rising costs runs like a thread through the myriad critiques of higher education that have been published in recent years. It is easy to understand why. Families recognize, on the one hand, the enormous and increasing importance of access to higher education for their children; at the same time, they worry if family resources will be adequate to pay the bills. Also,...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  7. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
  8. CHAPTER 1 The Problem of Rising Costs
    (pp. 1-19)

    Expenditures by American colleges and universities increased rapidly during the 1980s, markedly so among private institutions. Tuition charges rose sharply as well, making the rate of inflation in private college tuition even worse than the much-heralded run-up in medical costs. The aim of this study is to examine these increases, particularly as they have affected private research universities, and to consider their possible causes. This initial chapter begins by providing some background on the increases, describing the increases in spending and tuition and noting how they came to play a central role in the larger debate on the direction of...

  9. CHAPTER 2 A Peculiar Institution
    (pp. 20-57)

    Featuring the size of a small city, the complexity of a major conglomerate, the technical sophistication of the space program, the quaintness of a medieval monastery, and the political intrigue of a Trollope novel, the modern private research university in this country is a peculiar institution indeed. As an organizational type, its origins date to the Middle Ages, making its European examples some of the oldest continuously operating organizations other than the Roman Catholic Church. Probably its most famous example in this country, Harvard, founded in 1636, is today both among the very oldest and the most influential of American...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Boom Times for Selective Institutions
    (pp. 58-81)

    The fact that motivates the present study is the extraordinary increase in per-student expenditures and tuition levels in private colleges and universities beginning about 1980. The preceding chapter reviews a number of explanations for this escalation, but the question that remains unanswered is, Why did the escalation happen when it did? Before examining in detail the four institutions in this study, it is necessary to focus on the time period during which these dramatic increases in spending and tuition occurred. Was this period unusual in any way? To what extent are the trends observed in the sample institutions likely to...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Patterns and Trends in Expenditures
    (pp. 82-138)

    This chapter presents information on trends in real expenditures for the sample institutions. The data were taken from detailed financial information provided by each of four institutions: Duke, Harvard, Chicago and Carleton. Although efforts have been made to compile this information in comparable forms, the differences among institutions in mission, organization, and accounting practices make it inevitable that the presentations will not be uniform. The aim of the study was to collect data at five-year intervals beginning in 1976/77, but the lack of machine-readable data for the early part of the study period made it impossible to collect a detailed,...

  12. CHAPTER 5 The Sources of Rising Expenditures
    (pp. 139-161)

    As should be clear from chapter 4, expenditures increased significantly in many different categories in the sample institutions. In seeking to explain this escalation, the current chapter attempts to attribute portions of these increases to specific factors. This attribution is made on the basis of simple accounting identities. Thus, the decompositions that are presented should be thought of as categorization, rather than as behavioral explanation. The first section of this chapter discusses the contributions of several major items, including faculty compensation, other factor prices, financial aid, and administration. The second section presents a decomposition of the spending increases at the...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Administrative Functions
    (pp. 162-178)

    The next three chapters examine some of the observable changes that have accompanied the expenditure trends noted in the previous chapters. Considering these changes should aid our understanding of the increases in spending, suggesting explanations and consequences for them. This chapter focuses on administration in the university, including the everyday office functions that are carried out in academic departments. The first section discusses administrative functions generally, and the second section examines data from some of the sample institutions on actual staffing patterns.

    Setting aside for the moment the university’s central functions referred to in chapter 2—research, teaching, service, and...

  14. CHAPTER 7 The Allocation of Faculty Effort
    (pp. 179-217)

    The university’s central and most distinctive activities—teaching, research, and public service—are carried out largely by its most distinctive set of employees: the faculty. As a consequence, the decisions about how to allocate faculty effort are basic to the functioning of colleges and universities, and to their cost. Although most day-to-day decisions concerning these activities are entirely in the hands of departments and faculty members themselves, the larger decisions of resource allocation related to these functions, such as who will teach undergraduates, what courses will be offered, and how large classes will be, are influenced strongly by deans and...

  15. CHAPTER 8 Classes and Course Offerings
    (pp. 218-246)

    Underlying an institution’s measured expenditures are choices that it makes about how to allocate its teaching resources, notably, its faculty and graduate students. The previous chapter presents data showing that one evident trend in the sample institutions during the period of study was a decline in the average amount of classroom teaching by regular faculty members, at least in the departments examined. This trend is certainly consistent with the notion that an increasing emphasis on research had affected the entire labor market for academic labor, by way of changing the expected conditions of work for faculty. Whatever its genesis, it...

  16. CHAPTER 9 Ambition Meets Opportunity
    (pp. 247-264)

    In his 1978 report,Planning for the Eighties, Duke Chancellor Kenneth Pye spoke for many in higher education when he wrote that the coming decade would require stringency and selective retrenchment. Chancellor Pye called for a 15 percent reduction in the size of the faculty through selective elimination of programs. Although he did in fact bring about a few cutbacks, the decade of the 1980s, both at Duke and at other private research universities, was anything but austere. Buoyed by tuition increases that outpaced inflation by an average of four percentage points per year, the country’s top private universities experienced...

  17. Notes to the Chapters
    (pp. 265-284)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 285-292)
  19. Index
    (pp. 293-303)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 304-304)