Why is Math Cheaper than English? Understanding Cost Differences in Higher Education

78 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2018

See all articles by Steven W. Hemelt

Steven W. Hemelt

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Kevin Stange

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy

Fernando Furquim

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Andrew Simon

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

John E. Sawyer

University of Delaware

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Abstract

The private return to postsecondary investment varies widely by field, but the resources required by different fields are not well known. This paper establishes five new facts about college costs using novel department-level data. First, costs vary widely across field, ranging from electrical engineering (109 percent higher costs than English) to math (22 percent lower). Costs are generally higher in fields where graduates earn more and in pre-professional programs. Second, this pattern is explained statistically by differences in class size and faculty pay, though differences in production technology enable some fields to offset higher salaries with larger classes. Third, some STEM fields experienced steep declines in expenditures over the past fifteen years while others saw increases. Fourth, increases in class size and teaching loads alongside a shift in faculty composition toward contingent faculty explain these trends. Finally, online instruction is associated with a modest reduction in cost per student, but only for undergraduate instruction. Recent policy efforts to promote enrollment in high-earning fields will thus have important implications for postsecondary costs and the social return on investment in higher education.

Keywords: college costs, college major

JEL Classification: I21, I22, I23

Suggested Citation

Hemelt, Steven W. and Stange, Kevin and Furquim, Fernando and Simon, Andrew and Sawyer, John E., Why is Math Cheaper than English? Understanding Cost Differences in Higher Education. IZA Discussion Paper No. 11968, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3301722

Steven W. Hemelt (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill ( email )

102 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC NC 27514
United States

Kevin Stange

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy ( email )

735 South State Street, Weill Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Fernando Furquim

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Andrew Simon

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

John E. Sawyer

University of Delaware ( email )

Newark, DE 19711
United States

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