Let us propose a modest collegiate education. Only one series of subjects is taught, towards a degree in a solitary major. How much should this degree cost?
Let us begin with room and board. A two bedroom apartment may be shared by four students at a cost of $1200 per month. Add in an additional $800 per month for food. This amounts to $500 per month per student, for yearly per-student cost of $6,000. Please note that this is money that would have to be spent on normal existence, even without college attendance. Nevertheless, it is an expense, and we shall include it in the final total.
A bachelor's degree is defined as 120 semester hours of education. That equals 15 hours for each of 8 semesters over the course of 48 months. (We shall assume that our students catch up on sleep and laundry during the summer breaks.) An average class occupies three hours of instruction per week, plus a three hour laboratory experience per week. With five classes and one lab, this gives us a slightly ambitious eighteen hours of instruction per week, resulting in sixteen credit hours.
Let one professor teach each class. Let a lab assistant oversee the laboratory experience. Let there be a secretary to track administrative details. Let there be an associate professor, to fill in where needed. (If a good manager can manage anything, can not a good educator teach anything?) Let us pay the professors $80K per year, the associate and lab assistant $60K each, and the secretary $40K per year.
Let us assume that each class is comprised of twenty students. Let us assume that each instructor teaches four separate classes per week, for a total of 12 hours of labor each (with the associate as a backup for sick days and vacations). My, we are working them to the bone for their salaries, aren't we?
One cannot have a College without a Dean. Let us employ a Dean, paid the magnificent sum of $120,000 per year to wrangle the professors into doing their jobs. The Dean will obviously need a personal secretary. Let us also employ an accountant for $60,000, and retain the services of a lawyer for another $90,000. Let us now run four separate tracks in our educational establishment, employing a total of 20 professors, 4 associates, 4 assistants, 5 secretaries, one accountant, one lawyer, and one Dean. Our total personnel costs thus total to $2,550,000 per year. This magnificent sum will be spent teaching 320 students, for a yearly cost per student of $7,968.75.
Instruction does not take place in a vacuum. We need classrooms! And offices! Let all instruction take place in class B office space, which is quite a lot nicer than the average college classroom, and includes utilities and janitorial services. Let each classroom occupy 600 square feet, and each office 200 square feet. Each professor needs an office, while the assistants, associates, and secretaries share offices by pairs. The Dean, of course, gets a double sized office, and his secretary a personal office. Let us also include the all-important 200 square foot break room. Each classroom can be used for multiple subjects, of course, but let us give three classrooms to each track. This restricts the use of each classroom to a mere twenty four hours use per week, or an average of five hours per day. This gives a requirement for 12 classrooms and 32 offices.
We must pay for our space, at a rate of $30 per square foot per year We have 13,600 square feet of office and classroom space. We must include corridors to connect our rooms, so let us add an additional 25% to our space, amounting to 17,000 square feet of rentable space. This gives a total rent of $510,000 per year, or $1593.75 per student.
We forgot parking! Let us build a parking garage in our fair city. Land plus construction will cost about $10,000,000. We can amortize this expense over twenty years, for a yearly cost of $500,000. Per student, that amounts to $1562.50. There will probably be extra space to rent out to the public, but this finding stream will be credited towards administration and maintenance.
Books! We can't teach without the appropriate educational materials! Let us propose that books cost each student an average of $100 per class, or $1,000 per year. Books really shouldn't cost that much, but they do. (Did you know that the average publishing house makes the majority of their profits on educational materials?) Maybe they are bound in leather with gold leaf on every page. And hey, the students get to keep the books as momentoes, door stops, and ersatz coffee tables.
So, for room and board, books, personnel, facilities and parking, we have a total yearly expense of $18,125. Over the course of four years, our institution will cost a total of $72,500 for each student. This is for classes of twenty students, each taught by a full professor, in clean and attractive office space, and includes room and board for each and every student.
That's how much a four degree should cost. With actual costs well into the six figure range, where is all the money going? What I outlined above is luxurious, and far better than what almost any real educational institution offers. Again, ask yourself - where does all the money go?