It’s long been fashionable for bureaucrats to describe government spending as an “investment,” and is usually little more than an attempt to make wasteful spending seem palatable. And rarely do those same bureaucrats ever want an accounting for any return. Instead, the higher spending is used as a metric of success in and of itself.

Nowhere is that practice on bigger display than in funding for education. Taxpayers are constantly berated on the need for “more spending” despite mounds of evidence that additional dollars rarely provide more results. We’ve allowed the debate to confuse a high price for high quality.

At least one institution of education has started to understand that the price of education should provide an equally high return to the students and taxpayers.

Texas A&M, under the chancellorship of the state’s former comptroller, John Sharp, has begun moving towards a model that embraces efficiencies, reduces administrative burdens, and provides transparency in the cost of college. Between outsourcing and the outright elimination of administrative positions, more than a half-billion dollars has been saved.

Testifying last month before a legislative oversight committee, Sharp said the most important thing to do with those savings has been to bring tuition costs under control. With the problem of exploding college debt, controlling tuition is more important than ever for many students and families.

“The latest Institute for College Access & Success report indicated the average debt in 2014 nationally was $28,950, while the average for Texas was $26,250,” said Sharp. “Last year, at Texas A&M, only 44 percent of students graduated with debt, which means 56 percent had no debt.”

The A&M System has kept tuition at or under inflation.

Both Sharp himself, and A&M in general, have taken to promoting studies showing the “return on investment for students”… with A&M leading all of Texas’ public institutions.

This might be the most important of measures for cost-conscious students and parents. And has earned praise from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Without commenting on the intellectual value of some modern degrees, students should be given realistic expectations about what the earning potential for such a degree is in light of the costs and associated debt. It’s difficult to feel sorry for graduates whining about their debt if they pursued economically-suspect majors at institutions unconcerned with the real-world ability of such degrees to pay for themselves.

With so much wrong in the operations of higher education, Texas A&M has been quietly doing a lot more right in recent years than many of its peers.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Michael Quinn Sullivan and his wife have three children. He is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. Check out his podcast, “Reflections on Life and Liberty.”

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