25 Ways for Colleges to Cut Costs

From moving classes online to reforming student aid, colleges can take concrete steps to reduce costs.

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American colleges and universities are continually getting slammed for costing too much, but there are precious few people suggesting concrete ways to shrink these costs.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, however, has produced a white paper that lays out "25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College."

There are some excellent suggestions on the center's list. What do you think of these cost-cutting ideas?

1. Encourage more students to enroll at community colleges. Two-year colleges cost far less than four-year schools.

[Read four things you should know about community college.]

2. Promote dual degree programs, which allow high school students to take college courses. These programs include Advanced Placement classes, International Baccalaureate programs, and community college courses.

3. Reform tenure. Tenure is costly and is a crutch for the professors who are least valued.

4. Offer three-year bachelor's degrees, which are common in Europe.

5. Outsource services such as health centers, building maintenance, and recreation centers.

6. Reduce administrative staff. Some schools have more administrative staff than faculty. Bloated administrative staffs are expensive and contribute to stodgy decision making.

7. Cut unnecessary programs.

8. End the athletic arms race. Fewer than 20 collegiate athletic programs in this country make money, while many schools lose $10 million or more in their sports operations.

9. Overhaul the federal financial aid form. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which asks more than 100 questions, needs further reform.

10. Eliminate excessive academic research. One example: Academics have written more than 26,000 articles on Shakespeare since 1980. Teaching costs rise when professors spend an inordinate time on marginal research.

11. Streamline programs. States can no longer afford empire building, particularly at the graduate level. Tennessee, for instance, maintained 24 doctoral programs in 2009 with fewer than three graduates.

12. Promote collaborative purchasing. Colleges should band together to increase their bargaining power with suppliers.

13. Make better use of facilities. Schools should explore renting facilities—maybe even to departments—and utilizing space during off hours.

14. Increase teaching loads. Between 1988 and 2004, faculty-teaching loads at research universities dropped 42 percent.

15. Encourage timely completion of degrees. Most students don't graduate in four years, and the dropout rate is a national scandal.

16. Move more classes online. The most logical classes for online instruction are large introductory courses.

[See how online education offers access and affordability.]

17. Reduce textbook costs. Book rentals and electronic versions of books can help.

18. Downsize academic libraries. Do we really need to warehouse books in massive libraries when they can be digitized?

19. Outsource E-mail services. Technology companies like Google and Microsoft can undercut the costs of in-house campus E-mail.

20. Use new teaching methods. Increase online instruction and incorporate more technology into traditional classrooms.

21. Make transferring credits easier. Seamless transfers between colleges can make schools more competitive and reduce dropout rates.

22. Reform student aid. The student aid system is confusing, inefficient, and frequently doesn't direct aid to those who need it most.

[Get advice on how to pay for college.]

23. Reform accreditation. Accreditation of schools may need to be replaced by transparency of the quality—or lack of quality—at individual institutions.

24. Subsidize students not schools. Rather than state and federal governments subsidizing universities, give the subsidy to students in the form of vouchers. This would make schools more cost conscience and prod institutions into becoming student centered.

25. Promote competition based on value not reputation. Colleges have an incentive to spend more because reputation is a factor in college rankings. Making student outcomes known could reduce the overdependence on rankings and also put a brake on costs.