University Profits as a Component of the Student Debt Crisis?
*The following is a guest blog contribution from our friend Alan Fredendall SPT*
*Correction statement 11/30/2017: Following the initial publication of this post yesterday afternoon, the spreadsheet had some rows deleted to enhance the appearance which changed calculations. This was fixed when noticed but some whom viewed it may have seen incorrect calculations. I apologize for this error. It was not intentional but as the sole owner of this spreadsheet, it is ultimately my responsibility for these errors. The spreadsheet is now displaying as intended and I will no longer make any cosmetic changes. Schools will still be added as there are about 10 schools who still haven't returned FOIA requests. The purpose of using Google Sheets is to create an open source for these costs that can grow as more data becomes available.
I want to emphasis that the point of this post is not to single any school out but rather to identify that university profits are a key issue when evaluating why the cost of education and PT student debt have been rising disproportionately. While the excess cash is certainly not held by individual PT departments, it's use to subsidize infrastructure improvements, athletics, or other operational expenses is ethically debatable as public institutions are supposed to use tax funds and endowments for these purposes.
We thank everyone who provided comments, feedback, and criticism. For those that do not believe this post and data is comprehensive enough to be shared, we inviteyou to collaborate and share your data with us, we will absolutely incorporate it and would be very grateful for the contribution* - Sincerely Alan Fredendall SPT
The cost of PT education has become a popular topic in our profession as tuition continues to skyrocket. Overall student loan debt has increased from $363 billion to $1.38 trillion between 2005 and 2016. Awareness that the current course is unsustainable has inspired encouraging innovations such as alternative approaches to traditional PT school education. For example, South College has created a hybrid 2 year model which cuts tuition costs by 33% in addition to reducing commonly ignored costs such as traveling to campus every day that occurs within a traditional program. While several solutions will be required, one obvious area for consideration needs to be whether the price tag universities are putting on DPT programs is reasonable and appropriate. What ARE the costs of PT education and just how large are the "profit" margins at universities with PT programs? That is the question we recently set out to answer.
A group of colleagues and myself have spent the past few weeks doing a deep dive of the revenue and costs of tuition at each public university with a PT program in the United States. We chose public schools because with a few exceptions these universities receive state funding and therefore are required to publish their financial information to the public. In addition, for those schools that do not have this data readily accessible, they are required to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests at the state and/or federal levels. Since public schools host the majority of PT programs in the country, evaluating them provides a robust sample of the revenue and costs of PT school education. For the purposes of this analysis, revenue was calculated to be the tuition and fees published by each university multiplied by the cohort size and the number of cohorts taking class simultaneously. There are additional revenue sources for schools including charging for printing, mandatory clothing and equipment, etc. but are too varied to standardize. In addition, the revenue is almost always lower than the true cost to students as they must purchase books, specific clinical clothes, vaccinations and often some sort of verification service for background checks. Costs were calculated as the salary and benefits of the faculty of each PT department plus any additional operating expenses if published. These operating expenses range from postage for sending information packets to prospective students to reimbursing expenses for conference attendance. Unfortunately, no school publishes a line item budget. Without this data, it is impossible to follow every dollar within a university system. Most schools simply list "Other costs" on their budget book summaries such that total university revenue equals the total costs, thus the college remains non-profit.
The data we gathered is available at http://bit.ly/2gT6S3k for your review. I welcome and encourage feedback, comments, and criticism that can serve to deepen the important conversation surrounding the cost of physical therapy education. I believe this data makes it much easier to see how fast loan debt can rise with profit margins so high. Our goal of organizing and presenting this information is to encourage creative thinking from faculty and university leadership. We believe there is plenty of fat to trim and that new models of education such as the South College model should be recommended to prospective students. Additionally, we hope this information makes it into the hands of undergraduate students considering our profession so that they may be as informed as possible when choosing to select and support a physical therapy program.
I want to thank my colleagues who helped with this project including Dan Crusoe, Leor Giladi, Rachel Selina. In addition I want to thank Joseph Reinke of FitBux for spending the time with me many times over the phone helping me make sense of budget documents that were often hundreds or thousands of pages long. Finally, a big thank you to Dr. Jeff Moore who initially approached us about gathering this data and publishing it as well as his generous offering to post this blog on his website.
Alan Fredendall is a 3rd year DPT student. He can be reached by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter (@AlanFredendall).