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Seven ways to lower costs

Adam Newman | Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In my last article, I discussed the cost of American colleges and why they are overpriced. Below are some ideas specific to Notre Dame that could be used to lower costs without harming the quality of a Notre Dame education.
1. Change food services
Few realize how expensive Notre Dame dining hall food is since students are shielded from viewing the cost every time they eat. According to Notre Dame’s website, a purchase of 120 meals costs $11.38 per meal. This is outrageous, especially since most students do not eat this much food. The buffet style layout leads to high costs since all the food is “free.” In order to better conserve resources, Notre Dame should serve food using an a-la carte method. This would allow students to pay for what they buy and realize the full cost of their eating habits.
2. Eliminate some majors and minors
While providing a broad array of majors and minors is important for any college, Notre Dame can afford to merge and eliminate some of them. Is American Studies so vastly different from Political Science, or Africana Studies from Sociology, that they need to be different programs? As for minors, the vast array of minors offered (Arts and Letters offers 39 alone) makes little sense if a college is looking to lower costs.
3. Textbooks
The way textbooks are bought and sold through the ND bookstore is modern day usury. For example, I bought a new Spanish textbook last year for over $200. However, I could not sell back my book at the end of the semester because I opened the online bar code that I needed to complete homework. This is just one example of textbook horror.
Another is the practice of forcing students to buy new editions of textbooks when the only change from a previous edition is the cover and practice problems. Rather, Notre Dame should loan students the most expensive textbooks for the year like high schools do.
4. Stop building
Colleges love to build new buildings – many of which are not even related to academics. For example, the Compton Ice Arena cost $50 million to build. While donations may have been secured to build it, this is money that could have been used to lower student tuition. Usually a large part of the construction costs are covered by donations, but the operating costs are most likely partially borne by the University.
5. End administrative bloat
One of the major increases in costs is due to an increase in administrative staff, or people who do not teach students.
Nationally, the number of administrators increased from 60 percent from 1993, or 10 times the rate of growth of the tenured faculty, according to U.S. Education Department data. Notre Dame needs to examine non-faculty and analyze whether administrative positions can be eliminated.
6. Online courses
This would probably be one of the most meaningful changes Notre Dame could make – to shift partially away from classes taught by professors in person toward those taught online.
Many colleges, including Notre Dame, are experimenting with offering classes that include online lectures from the best professors across the country. Which provides more value – taking a real class from a Wharton accounting professor for free, or taking a class from a Notre Dame professor for $5,000?
7. Change the culture away from “more, more, more”
The current culture of college is geared towards “more” – whether it is hiring more administrators, building more buildings, etc. These decisions are largely made in a bubble since they do not mirror the economic realities of slow growth and wage stagnation. This mentality has led to the systematic (and unnecessary) transfer of wealth from families and the government to higher education.
Rather, Notre Dame should tie its cost increases to inflation plus one percent or GDP plus one percent. This would force its cost increases to better reflect current economic conditions and lead to a concerted effort to provide greater value.
One of the things I love most about Notre Dame is its moral commitment to the common good, whether it be “expecting more of business” or “educating the mind and the heart.” But with the cost of a Notre Dame education over $60,000 and quickly rising, Notre Dame has a moral imperative to lower costs.
The good news is there are many solutions that can lower costs without hurting the overall quality of a Notre Dame education. The bad news is changes will be opposed by almost every college stakeholder. Regardless, it is time for Notre Dame to start acting like the “family” it claims to be and less like the bloated business it actually is.

Adam Newman is a senior studying political science. He can be reached at anewman3@nd.edu
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.