10 Reasons College Costs So Much

Lasers Are Expensive
Some of the 2012 Nobel Prize winners stand during the awards ceremony in Stockholm. It costs colleges a lot to fund the professors who win these prestigious prizes and costs are often passed down to students. © SCANPIX SWEDEN/Reuters/Corbis

Faculty research is one of the most powerful drivers of college prestige. A major scientific discovery can make national or even international headlines, drawing the attention of prospective students and parents. While much of the funding for scientific research is from public sources like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, it still costs colleges money to attract and retain the most talented research faculty.

In fact, the cost of high-quality research is a double- or triple-edged sword (patent pending). First, colleges pay a salary premium to attract and keep a top-notch researcher. Second, the researcher's work often requires facility upgrades or costly equipment that may or may not be covered by grant money. Third, research-focused faculty spend less than a third of their time actually teaching or working directly with undergraduates [source: Ulrich]. This leads some parents to wonder: How much of their child's tuition goes toward subsidizing research that has no direct impact on his or her education?