Duke Says $60K Tuition Is a Bargain

In 1984, it cost $10,000 a year to go to Duke University. Today, it’s $60,000 a year. “It’s staggering,” says Duke freshman Max Duncan, “especially considering that for four years.”

But according to Jim Roberts, executive vice provost at Duke, that’s actually a discount. “We’re investing on average about $90,000 in the education of each student,” he says. Roberts is not alone in making the claim. In fact, it’s one most elite research institutions point to when asked about rising tuition.


Okay, sorry. Had to get that out of the way. Lisa Chow at NPR breaks down where all that money goes, and it is illuminating.

My biggest side-eyes:

$8,000 of the $90,000 Duke spends on each student goes into building and maintaining physical infrastructure on campus.

Another $14,000 goes to pay a share of administrative and academic support salaries, which in Duke’s case includes more than $1 million in total compensation to the university president, Richard Brodhead, and more than $500,000 to the provost, Peter Lange, according to 2011 tax filings.

Apparently about 50% of students pay full tuition, $20,000 of which goes to cover the students who receive financial aid. For the 50% of students who do receive financial aid, just over 10% pay nothing, and another 10% pay between $1 and $10k/year.

Meanwhile! A freshman at Duke writes for xoJane about why she did porn:

People often ask me this question. They know I am a freshman at Duke University, and their shock and incredulity are apparent when the rumor they’ve heard whispered or read on a chat board turns out to be true.

However, the answer is actually quite simple. I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love.

Photo: Matt Phillips


17 Comments / Post A Comment

rhinoceranita (#5,858)


I can relate. Womp womp.

wrappedupinbooks (#1,426)

Wait the tuition is $60,000, or is that figure for tuition + dorms + dining hall etc.? Cause $60k is more than every single law school I applied to charges in tuition (and I applied to a lot of law schools).

Edit to add: I looked it up, $60k is the total cost of attendance. Which, while still very expensive, is still pretty par for the course as far as private colleges go.

Yeah but could you imagine the kind of terrible education you’d get at a school without dozens of highly paid deans and a president who only made in the low six figures? Why even bother going to college if there aren’t six VPs in charge of Student Life?

Eric18 (#4,486)

@stuffisthings The ballooning of administrations at universities is a big part of why costs have skyrocketed. Some of the posts created at the UC system are cringe-worthy.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

Really, NPR? Did you really lead the last third of your article with “But the biggest category of costs is faculty, at $21,000 per year per undergraduate student,” and then whine about how hiring professors is just so dang expensive?

I mean, the word “adjunct” isn’t ever mentioned, but I cannot believe they pulled the “and maybe Duke shouldn’t hire so many tenure-track professors” as an argument.

Lily (#3,106)

Also they have to live in tents for several weeks if they want basketball tickets.

According to http://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm $10,000 in 1984 is equivalent to $22,513.57 in 2014. Where the hell did the other $37,000 come from? The fact that tuition is about 2 times higher then inflation is insane. There can be no way a system like this can survive. Or rather I hope it doesn’t survive.

deedee (#4,436)

Ugh. I heard this story on the radio this morning and was so grossed out.

My biggest mistake in undergrad was thinking that the school was there for me. I thought, “I’m a student. These professors are here to teach me! The admin staff is here to support me! These facilities are here for my use!” I was sooooooooo wrong. All those things are there for faculty research (and maybe grad students). I was just there to take my precious professor’s time away from the lab, cause unwanted political upstirrings and help foot the bill for it all.

andnowlights (#2,902)

I wish people would stop hating on higher education administration salaries.
That job is HARD because not only do you deal with the business side of running a school with 24,000 students, you’re also dealing with occasionally AWFUL undergraduates and their even more awful parents. These people deal with the bureaucracy of going through their own graduate educations (most have PhDs) and care enough to stick around when they could be making way more money in business. Presidents and Chancellors of major universities are “on call” 24/7/365, even when they’re on “vacation” and are responsible for so much of the public face of a university.
Should Richard Brodhead accept a tiny salary just because it’s academia and not a Fortune 1000 company? A school is a business just as much as any for-profit organization (anyone who disagrees has clearly not worked at one), plus parents, pressure from every media outlet every decrying higher education, students, and the government (if it’s a state school).
Source: I’m a university admin that works the chancellor’s office and several dean’s offices quite a bit.

Edited to add: I can’t believe I’m almost defending Duke in this, because I HATE Duke, but I’m so tired of reading the same arguments over and over about how academic admins are overpaid.

Meaghano (#529)

@andnowlights Thank you for articulating this. I didn’t mean to say/imply by quoting that admins are overpaid across the board. In my mind that would be ridiculous, and honestly had no idea that was a thing people generally argued at all — if I did I would have avoided perpetrating!

I do still think a $500k salary is ridiculous, especially when the cost of it is passed onto students, but I know in context it is not all that ridiculous, and certainly don’t mean that to be a broad argument about admin pay.

andnowlights (#2,902)

@Meaghano My comment came off way harsher than I meant it to! That’s what I get for Billfolding in a rush when I’m supposed to be working. I’m sorry!

I think I hear more about it/ I’m more sensitive to conversation about it because not only do I work at a major university, but my husband is a PhD student who love teaching but also thinks he could do a lot of good in administration (eventually). It would be nice for his income to reflect the sacrifices he’s made (and I’ve made. Academic “trailing spouses” don’t get talked about very often, but it’s a real thing), especially since he will have been in school as long as medical doctors are. My whole life is centered around academia in some way, so it’s hard when people imply that it’s a rip off in some way. Things take money and it has to come from somewhere, especially at private schools like Duke (blech, Duke).

Poubelle (#2,186)

@Meaghano If dealing with difficult people meant you got a higher salary, then retail & foodservice would have some of the best-paying jobs in the world, instead of working for commission & tips.

(The poorly-paid, zero-job-security adjuncts also deal with undergrads directly, and if they do wind up dealing with parents chances are it’s the awful helicopter ones.)

I think admins can do great work, but pretty much any job dealing with people is going to suck at times (or a lot of the time). That’s just the nature of the beast.

@fo (#839)

“Apparently about 50% of students pay full tuition, $20,000 of which goes to cover the students who receive financial aid.”

So, really, they’re paying $40,000 for $90,000 of spending? Isn’t including the $20k that goes to reduce costs for some students as part of the “spending” per student kinda double-counting?

I bet that they divide Coach K’s salary over the student body, too. So, 6600 undergrads, $7.2 million (yes, srsly) for Coach K, so that’s over $1,000 per kid, right there. Football head coach gets another $1.5. etc, etc. Probably half of the “academic support” is intercollegiate coaching staff salaries.

ps: On the President’s job–the most important part is *fundraising*. The ‘plus parents’ only applies to those parents able to write checks; the president isn’t (and *shouldn’t*) be dealing with ‘normal’ parents–even apart from infantalizing the students (who are *adults*)–even if they are paying rack rate for the kids. Not the president’s job.

aesir (#5,963)

Ugh. I applied to Duke last year for a master’s program, and turned their offer down because they categorically refused to give me any funding.

The dirty secret at most top-tier research universities is that a good chunk of undergraduate instruction comes in the form of adjunct professors and grad students, who are basically paid peanuts and are either too busy scrambling for their next job or too focused on their research/own classes to care much about their students. I would know; I’m a grad student at a top public university, and being a TA (which is my funding package) is the bottom of my priority list. Even when I was in undergrad half of my major classes were taught by grad students or non-tenured faculty.

I think undergrads do get kind of screwed over, and the new buildings and amenities and shiny dining halls and whatnot are just a way to distract them from the mediocre quality of the education they’re receiving while still justifying the insane tuition.

Poubelle (#2,186)

@aesir Your comment and deedee’s up thread make me so glad I went to a liberal arts school. Wasn’t cheap, but I think I got what I paid for (& am still paying for, yay loans). Though it was about 20 grand cheaper than Duke! And my biggest scholarship was endowed by some alums, not paid for by my fellow students.

aesir (#5,963)

@Poubelle Yeah, seriously. My college econ department had no fewer than 5 Nobel Laureates at the time of my attendance (and just added 2 more). I think only one of them ever taught undergrads. I guess there’s something to be said for reflected prestige, but it doesn’t really do much for the quality of instruction if your best faculty are concentrating solely on research.

On the other hand, the large research universities are more likely to hand out significant amounts of financial aid or need-based grants, owing to their superior endowments. I got 3/4 of my tuition knocked off just for being poor, so I can’t say it was a bad deal overall.

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