Should college tuition be free?

Michael S. Harris, an associate professor of higher education and director of SMU'sCenter for Teaching Excellence, provided expertise for a story on college tuition and professors' salaries.

By Tom Price

A majority of college graduates are leaving school owing more than $25,000, and nearly 7 million have defaulted on their student loans. Student debt nationwide totals almost $1.3 trillion — up 350 percent since 2005. Many experts say the rise is due partly to growth in enrollment, expanded eligibility for federal loans and predatory lending. But others say student debt is growing mainly because of skyrocketing tuition. Officials at public colleges blame tuition hikes on declining state support, which fell by about 20 percent between 2001 and 2015. But critics say colleges are spending too much on administration, expensive intercollegiate athletic programs and academic programs with weak demand. Others say the easy availability of student loans encourages colleges to raise prices. Student debt became a major issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, with Democratic candidates promoting free college tuition and Republican candidate Donald Trump — now president-elect — proposing an income-based repayment plan and debt forgiveness after 15 years. ...

For instance, David Levy, a former chancellor of the New School in New York City, says that while professors at research universities often work long hours because of their research projects, professors at nonresearch schools often work just over one-third as much as other professionals, due to light teaching loads and long summer breaks.

But Michael S. Harris, an associate professor of higher education and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said faculty workloads are equivalent to other professionals' because “preparation, grading, meeting with students and student correspondence take far more time than the actual hours of instruction.”

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