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Slowly, as Student Debt Rises, Colleges Confront Costs

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In a wood-paneled office lined with books, sports memorabilia and framed posters (including John Belushi in “Animal House”), E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University, keeps a framed quotation that reads, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”

哥伦布,俄亥俄州——一个木质墙板环绕的办公室里,摆满了各种书籍、体育纪念品和装裱入框的海报(包括约翰·贝鲁西(John Belushi)在《动物屋》(Animal House)里的剧照),俄亥俄州立大学(Ohio State University)的校长E·戈登·吉(E. Gordon Gee)还在里面挂了一块名言匾额,上面写着:“与时俱进,或被历史淘汰。”

Mr. Gee, who is often identified with a big salary and spendthrift ways, says he has taken the quotation to heart, and he is now trying to persuade Ohio State’s vast bureaucracy, and the broader world of academia, to do the same.


At a time of diminished state funding for higher education and uncertain federal dollars, Mr. Gee says that public colleges and universities need to devise a new business model to pay for the costs of education, beyond sticking students with higher tuition and greater debt.


“The notion that universities can do business the very same way has to stop,” said Mr. Gee, who is also the chairman of a commission studying college attainment, including the impact of student debt.

College presidents across the country are confronting the same realization, trying to manage their institutions with fewer state dollars without sacrificing quality or all-important academic rankings. Tuition increases had been a relatively easy fix but now — with the balance of student debt topping $1 trillion and an increasing number of borrowers struggling to pay — some administrators acknowledge that they cannot keep putting the financial onus on students and their families.


Increasingly, they are looking for other ways to pay for education, stepping up private fund-raising, privatizing services, cutting staff, eliminating departments — even saving millions of dollars by standardizing things like expense forms.


And Wall Street is watching.


Moody’s Investors Service, in a report earlier this year, said it had a favorable outlook for the nation’s most elite private colleges and large state institutions, those with the “strongest market positions” that had multiple ways to generate revenue. Ohio State, for instance, received a stable outlook from Moody’s last fall, though the report cautioned about the school’s debt and reliance on its medical center for revenue.

穆迪投资者服务公司(Moody’s Investors Service)在年初的一份报告中表示,他们看好那些全国顶尖的私立大学和大型州立机构。这些机构有着“极高的市场地位”,能够通过多种途径获得利润。例如,去年秋季俄亥俄州立大学就受到了穆迪对其前景的肯定。同时,该报告也对其债务和依赖医学中心获得收益的状况表示了担忧。

But Moody’s issued a negative outlook for a majority of colleges and universities heavily dependent on tuition and state revenue.


“Tuition levels are at a tipping point,” Moody’s wrote, adding later, “We anticipate an ongoing bifurcation of student demand favoring the highest quality and most affordable higher education options.”


Colleges can be top-heavy with administrators and woefully inefficient, some critics say, and some have only recently taken a harder look at ways to streamline their operations.


“Schools are very good at adding new things, new programs,” said Sherideen S. Stoll, vice president for finance and administration at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. “We are not so good at looking at things we have been doing for 20 or 30 years and saying, ‘Should we be offering those academic programs?’ ”

“学校都非常善于增加一些新东西,新的项目,” 俄亥俄州博林格林州立大学(Bowling Green State University)主管财政和行政的副校长谢里登·S·斯托尔(Sherideen S. Stoll)说。“我们不善于审视自己做了二三十年的东西,然后说‘我们还应该提供这些学术项目吗?’”

At Bowling Green, 62 percent of graduates have debt that averages $31,515, the highest among Ohio public universities that publish the data. In addition to raising tuition, which has been limited by state-mandated caps, the university has laid off employees, encouraged early retirements, required unpaid furloughs and limited pay increases, Ms. Stoll said. The belt-tightening hasn’t yet reached the point that academic quality has suffered, she said, but Bowling Green may not be able to offer as much in the future.


“We’ve done everything and anything to try to operate much more efficiently,” she said.


The problems aren’t confined to public colleges. Administrators at some nonprofit private institutions said they too had come to realize they could not keep raising tuition and fees. Families have become more price-sensitive since the economic collapse and are seeking deeper discounts on the sticker price.


“We know the model is not sustainable,” said Lawrence T. Lesick, vice president for enrollment management at Ohio Northern University. “Schools are going to have to show the value proposition. Those that don’t aren’t going to be around.”

“我们知道这个模式不具持久性,” 北俄亥俄大学(Ohio Northern University) 主管注册登记的副校长劳伦斯·T·莱西克(Lawrence T. Lesick)说。“学校必须要表明自己的价值主张,不这样做的学校则会被淘汰。”

There is a dispute about why college costs have risen so much. Before the economic crisis, some critics argue, both public and private colleges participated in a costly “arms race” to provide better amenities to lure the best students and faculty: new dormitories with one student to a room, frequent sabbaticals for professors, upscale cafeteria food, expanded counseling services and gymnasiums that rival the fanciest health clubs in Manhattan.

关于大学开销大幅上涨的原因则存在争议。在经济危机之前,有些批评家认为,公立和私立的大学都参与了一场昂贵的 “军备竞赛”,试图用更优厚的条件来吸引顶尖学生和教育人才:单人学生公寓、为教授提供更频繁的休假、更上档次的食堂、项目繁多的咨询服务,以及能和曼哈顿顶级健身会所相媲美的体育设施。

Others say education is intrinsically expensive. Health care costs, for instance, have taken a toll, since colleges are labor-intensive. And the expense of keeping up with technology, like wireless Internet and new computers, is high. Here at Ohio State, where tuition has increased by nearly 60 percent since 2002, there is a gleaming new student union, climbing walls that can accommodate 50 students at a time and $2 billion in construction projects under way.

有些人说教育本身就很昂贵。比如,学校的劳动密集性质意味着医疗保健就是一项很大的支出。 在更新高科技配置方面的花费也很高,比如无线网络覆盖和新电脑的使用。从2002年开始,俄亥俄州的学费几乎上涨了60%。这儿现在有一幢崭新的学生活动大楼、可以一次性容纳50人的攀岩练习墙,以及价值20亿美元的在建工程。

Mr. Gee’s compensation package this year, moreover, is worth about $2 million, and The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him the highest-paid public university president. The Dayton Daily News recently reported that Mr. Gee had billed Ohio State for $550,000 in travel in the last two years.

此外,戈登·吉今年的全部薪酬价值约200万美元,《高等教育纪事报》(The Chronicle of Higher Education)称他为 薪水最高的公立大学校长。《代顿每日新闻》(The Dayton Daily News) 最近报道,在过去两年间,戈登一共向俄亥俄州立大学报销了55万美元的出差费用。

The travel expenses prompted some to question if Mr. Gee practices what he preaches.


“He’s very capable. He’s a very smart guy, and he’s engaging and all these things,” said Dale Butland, a spokesman for Innovation Ohio, a nonprofit policy research group. But he added, “Students and their parents who are struggling, not just with coming up with the money, but paying off the debt, I think there is a disconnect between what they are being asked to do and what they are seeing the leader of the university doing.”

“他非常能干。他是个很聪明的人,很有魅力,各方面都很好,” 非营利性政策研究机构创新俄亥俄(Innovation Ohio)的发言人 戴尔·巴特兰德(Dale Butland)表示。但是他又补充道:“学生和家长们面临的问题不仅是交学费,而且还有还贷。我认为,在他们面对的各种要求和校领导的所作所为之间出现了断层。”

Mr. Gee maintains that Ohio State is getting its money’s worth. On his watch, Ohio State has become a more prestigious university, he says, while remaining a relative bargain, even with fewer resources from the state. It now receives just 7 percent of its budget from the state.


Ohio State costs about $25,000 a year for in-state residents who live on campus. The average debt for graduates who borrow is $24,480.


A lanky 68-year-old who is known for his bow ties, horn-rimmed glasses and sometimes zany antics (he has shown up, unannounced, at 21st birthday parties for his students, which he finds on Facebook), Mr. Gee has had the top job at five universities, including twice at Ohio State. He returned to the Columbus campus in 2007 after stints at Brown and Vanderbilt. Mr. Gee acknowledges that college affordability and student debt are growing problems that university presidents long ignored. He said they now needed to address them quickly.

吉先生今年68岁,高高瘦瘦,经常打着领结,带着一副牛角框眼镜,有时候行为古怪(他曾经在脸谱(Facebook)上找到学生开21岁生日聚会的消息,之后没有通知任何人,就直接出现在聚会上)。迄今为止,他已在五所大学担任一把手,其中有两次出任俄亥俄州立大学校长。在布朗大学(Brown University)和范德堡大学(Vanderbilt University)工作一段时间之后,他在2007年回到了俄亥俄州立大学哥伦布分校(the Ohio State University,  Columbus, OSU)。戈登承认,学费的价格合理性和学生贷款正在成为日益突出的问题,而长时间以来,学校领导们都忽视了这些问题。他说,这些问题必须迅速得到处理。

“We have not been as conscious about costs as we should be, and that has now come home to roost,” he said.


Like many other college presidents, Mr. Gee has set about trying to make Ohio State’s highly decentralized bureaucracy more efficient. He said he planned to find $1 billion in inefficient spending in the university’s $5 billion budget over the next five years and redirect the money toward priorities.


“We are like Noah’s Ark,” he said. “We do two of everything.”


The university saved $20 million simply by switching to common vendors for pens, copiers and overnight shipping; previously Ohio State’s 14 colleges chose their own. Creating a common expense report will save $75 million.


“When I got here, I asked to see their long-term financial model, and they brought me a paper for one year, and I said, ‘What?’ ” said Geoff Chatas, a former banker whom Mr. Gee hired in 2010 as chief financial officer. “Now we have a 15-year plan.”

“刚到这里的时候,我要求看一下他们的长期财政计划,他们拿给我的材料只是关于这一年的,这让我当时感到十分惊讶”杰夫·查塔斯(Geoff Chatas)说。他之前是一位银行家,戈登于2010年聘请他担任学校的首席财务官。“现在我们有一份15年的计划。”

Mr. Gee said he was considering selling off Ohio State’s airport and golf courses, and he might privatize campus parking, though faculty members are balking at the idea. Last year, Ohio State became the first public university to issue a 100-year bond, for $500 million.

戈登表示,他正在考虑出售俄亥俄州立大学的机场和高尔夫球场,也许他还会将学校的停车场私有化,尽管有些教职工对这个提议表示反对。去年,俄亥俄州立大学成为了第一所发行有效期100年,总价值 5亿美元债券的大学。

He is also is trying to beef up Ohio State’s enrollment of out-of-state and international students, who bring in more tuition revenue and higher test scores. And, he is pressing donors for more money, a task in which he is particularly skilled.


At a ceremony to honor a $100 million donation from Leslie Wexner, the clothing magnate and Ohio State graduate, Mr. Gee choked back tears.

俄亥俄州立大学校友、服装业巨擎莱斯利·韦克斯纳(Leslie Wexner)为学校捐赠了1亿美元。在庆典上,戈登激动得热泪盈眶。

“Every time I get a lot of money I cry,” Mr. Gee told the crowd. “And I got a lot of tears left.”

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