Higher ed costs

Even with recent increases, tuition within Nevada's university system remains reasonable and affordable. Given Nevada's current budget crunch, the state's higher education consumers are fortunate that they haven't been asked to pick up an even higher share of the costs necessary to educate them.

Meanwhile, in California, students have reverted to Vietnam War era tactics to protest tuition increases. Apparently, struggling taxpayers in a state that teeters on the edge of bankruptcy are expected to keep digging deeper to make things easier for coddled young adults.

Higher education costs have long been a source of consternation for parents, students and grandstanding politicians alike, as the costs of maintaining campuses has skyrocketed far in excess of inflation for years.

Of course, one problem is that federal and state subsidies for higher education run into the trillions. When you throw so much "free" money into the mix -- especially in the form of scholarships, cheap loans and grants -- costs are virtually guaranteed to increase.

But there's also another factor at work -- one that may be overlooked because it's too obvious, and one that may have lessons for Nevada's university system.

"Based on my experience as the vice president for finance and administration at a prominent college in the early 2000s," writes Andrew Manshel in the April 9 Wall Street Journal, " I suggest ... (that top) institutions charge what they do because a substantial number of people will pay it."

In other words, a university degree is a commodity whose cost is -- in large part -- determined by an institution's academic reputation. Competition for limited admission spots at top-rated schools drives up prices. On the other hand, schools at the other end of the spectrum can't afford to raise tuition too high lest they drive away applicants.

This suggests that Nevada regents would be hard pressed to keep raising tuition at UNLV unless they also sharply limited admissions to the best and the brightest.

In addition, Mr. Manshel argues that many universities have spent far too much taxpayer money on empire building in terms of new facilities while also sitting on generous endowments. University "leaders need to take a sharp pencil to their cost structures; raise their endowment payouts; end annual cost increases in excess of inflation; and rededicate themselves to providing opportunity for the talented ... "

As Nevada's university system struggles with the current recession, this is a recipe the regents should consider.