CBS has compiled a list of the 50 most expensive colleges and universities in America, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Most of the institutions on the list are no surprise. Number 1 is the University of Chicago (‘where fun goes to die’), Columbia is #2, Brown is #7, USC is #8, Penn is #9 and Dartmouth is #10. Yale, Cornell and Stanford are on the list too.
The real surprises, however, are twofold. First, several schools of middling repute were also on the list. For example, Fordham is #13, Occidental College is #19, Franklin and Marshall College is #30, Pepperdine is #35 and Santa Clara University is #44.
Second, Harvard, Princeton and Johns Hopkins are not in the top 50, nor are any public universities, such as Michigan, Berkeley or UCLA.
The real lesson here, I think, is that cost is not directly proportional to a school’s reputation. Of course, a school’s reputation and the quality of the education is provides are entirely different things, but when going into the workforce or applying to graduate school, reputation does matter. So it’s important to attend the best school — in terms of quality and reputation — that you can afford, and not to use price as a proxy for either.
The American Association of University Professors released its Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession last month. It is grim. For one thing, real wages (i.e., wages adjusted for inflation) actually decreased for the first time in over a decade. And that’s wages for full-time faculty. Second, 63% of faculty are contingent (i.e., on fixed-term contracts rather than on a tenure-track or tenured). Third, the average pay for part-time contingent faculty (i.e., adjunct professors) is $3552 per course. For most schools, a typical full-time teaching load is two or three courses, meaning that the adjunct who is lucky enough to cobble together a full teaching load can expect an average annual salary of $14,208 to $21,312, without benefits of course. I myself have managed to get three courses at The Cooper Union, at $3000 per course, though fortunately this is not my only revenue stream at present and I get benefits from my wife’s job. But if I were unmarried or saddled with massive student debt, I’d probably be living with my parents or out of academia altogether.
I mention this because when I was a student, I never thought about how much professors make, because a) I didn’t even know about the existence of contingent faculty, and b) I thought I didn’t need much money, so salary was unimportant. I’m sure other students considering grad school in archaeology are similarly uninformed, so I offer this report as an antidote to such misapprehensions. Some people do get lucky, but for most academia is a slow road to financial ruin.
I received the sad news from my alma mater the other day that H. D. Cameron has died. I first met Prof. Cameron in the summer of 2004, long before I became a student at Michigan. Even at that early date Michigan was my first choice for doctoral study, and I went to Ann Arbor to see the university for myself and meet with some faculty. I went over to the Classical Studies department in Angell Hall and found Prof. Cameron roaming the hall as he so often did. He asked me if he could be of service, and when I explained my purpose, he rousted some grad students to talk to me in the library. As Ben Fortson’s obituary indicates, this was typical of Prof. Cameron. Once I became a student at Michigan a few years later I saw him often in that hallway, dispensing wisdom, advice and good cheer. He made an effort to learn the names of graduate students, even those like me who were not directly part of the Classical Studies department. He was like an uncle to the entire department, someone that every department needs but too few have.