Fast Focus: Make academics a priority

January 13, 2013 

-- MICHAEL VOWELS, Richland

There are many simple things that can be done to make college more affordable. As a recent college graduate, I recommend these steps that are shockingly simple and obvious.

First and foremost: Cut spending. Each department at a given college has a given budget for extracurricular activities. A lot of the time this budget is used for things that have nothing to do with academics and the extracurriculars are quite unnecessary.

Another way to cut spending would be to limit the budgets of athletic programs. Yes, athletic programs do bring colleges a lot of money, but there is quite a bit of frivolous spending going on within individual programs that if eliminated would not affect the amount of income brought in by ticket sales, etc. Basketball players don't need new shoes every two weeks. Though they are frequently discounted by a sponsor, they rarely are free. There is no need for alternative jerseys; a simple home and away jersey should do. These are small fixes, but they add up fast.

Another solution would be to simply cut some extracurriculars in general. There are a lot of extracurricular activities such as concerts, carnivals, etc. that cost the university a lot of money! They do tend to appeal to prospective students, but there is ample evidence that what universities are NOT lacking is potential students.

Another solution would be to limit the pay of high-ranking officials. Most college presidents have a seven-figure salary. Again, generally they bring in quite a bit of money for the university but they ought not be getting raises and bonuses while academic programs are being cut.

Cutting spending in these ways will lead to lower tuition rates. Yes, some of these cuts in spending may lead to lower income for the university initially, which generally leads to higher tuition rates, but the amount saved should outweigh the loss of income and, in the end, result in lower tuition.

Another simple solution from the student's perspective is to apply for scholarships. Millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed every year simply because people do not apply.

However, it comes down to a simple principle that is currently not being followed. The principle is this: The role of a university is academic. That ought to be the primary goal of any university. Whether it's through research or instruction, academics ought to be the focus. So why, I ask, are programs being cut while football players get brand new cleats? Why are programs being merged while there are multi million-dollar upgrades being done to stadiums? It seems to be some sort of unwarranted shift in focus that ought to be reversed.

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