The Political Economy of Cost Control on a University Campus

Thursday, April 20, 2017
4:00pm to 5:30pm with hosted reception to follow
Sibley Auditorium, Bechtel Engineering Center, Reception to follow in Garbarini Lounge, Bechtel Engineering Center 
President Emeritus, Tufts University


In their classic study of the performing arts, William Baumol and William Bowen observed that in sectors of the economy where productivity growth lagged that of the economy as a whole, costs would rise faster than inflation.  Higher education is often cited as a classic example.  Indeed, politicians are fond of castigating colleges and universities and their leaders for their failure to rein in rising costs.  But while Baumol and Bowen may provide a technical explanation of why college costs seem to rise inexorably, their theory says little about why university leaders often seem reluctant to expend political capital to control costs.  In fact, while there is much hand- wringing about rising costs, it is hard to identify any constituency on a college campus including students, faculty, parents, and even the board that prioritizes cost containment over competing goals.


President Emeritus Lawrence S. Bacow served as the twelfth President of Tufts University from September 2001 through July 2011. During his ten years as President, he advanced the university’s role as a leader in teaching, research, and public service. Nationally, he became well known as an advocate of broader access to higher education and the importance of need-based financial aid. After stepping down as President of Tufts after ten years of service, Dr. Bacow served for three years as President-in-Residence in the Higher Education Program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He is currently the Leader-in-Residence at the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School. He is a Senior Advisor to Ithaka S+R and was one of the authors of its major 2012 study of the barriers to the adoption of online learning systems in U.S. higher education. Prior to becoming President of Tufts, Dr. Bacow served on the MIT faculty for 24 years, the last three as Chancellor. He is also a member of the Lincoln Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Harvard Corporation. Dr. Bacow received his B.S. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and his M.P.P. and Ph.D. from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.