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EDITORIAL: Making college affordable

Shrink the golden parachute for a leap from the ivy tower

- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2013

Every parent with a college-age child worries about the spiraling cost of education. The price of a diploma can reach $150,000, even at a state school. A little cost-cutting is in order, and there's no better place to start than at the president's office.

Alan Merten stepped down last year as president of George Mason University, a state-owned school in Fairfax, Va. In addition to pocketing $1.2 million in retirement benefits, he enjoyed an annual salary of $427,369, a $150,000 bonus and $99,000 in deferred compensation. His farewell package was worth $1.8 million, an impressive tribute from Virginia taxpayers to his 18 years of service.

Frustrated students (and their parents) could only wish for a fraction of such generosity. Virginia residents pay $9,908 per year to attend George Mason, which is modest enough until room, board, books and a broad array of fees are added. Out-of-state students pay three times that, typically running to $40,000 per year. State schools everywhere particularly covet out-of-state students.

George Mason is not alone in bestowing lavish salaries on administrators. At Virginia Tech, President Charles W. Steger earned $857,749 last year, and Teresa A. Sullivan received $731,537 at the University of Virginia. Even so, Virginians are extravagant pikers at this. Pennsylvanians paid $2.9 million last year to Graham B. Spanier after he was sacked as president of Penn State University in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. He was the highest-paid public university or college president in the United States last year, according to the annual survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Small wonder he left town happy.

The lot of his students, who helped pay these mind-bending salaries, is not so happy. In March, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated the outstanding student-loan balance at $870 billion, which is greater than the balance owed on either America's credit cards or automobile loans. As graduates encounter a job market that leaves the best and brightest taking jobs to ask only "Do you want fries with that?", defaults are increasing. One in 10 borrowers are at least 90 days behind on payments.

Two Republican governors, Rick Scott in Florida and Rick Perry in Texas, have a better idea called the "$10k B.A." The idea is to boost high school studies and get kids through a four-year bachelor's program for $10,000 a year or less. It's a proven concept. Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, is an example of how it can be done. He earned his B.A. on the cheap, obtained by correspondence studies and exam successes, banking his credits at Thomas A. Edison State College in New Jersey. The diploma launched him toward master's and doctorate degrees and eventually to a highly regarded think tank.

The governors have the right idea, and it's about time. Something has to be done to restore sanity to higher education. Taxpayers shouldn't have to underwrite seven-figure golden parachutes for administrators leaping (or being pushed) from the ivy towers. Trimming back such unnecessary extravagances is the first step to make college more affordable.

The Washington Times

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