When you hear proposals to control tuition by reducing instruction cost (in the recent discussions of MOOCs for example), here are a couple of numbers you should keep in mind. They haven't been adjusted for inflation and they're based on a sample size of one, but I still thing they'll gave you a pretty clear picture.
Back in the Nineties I did a four year stint as a lecturer at a large state university. The standard load for lecturers was four courses a semester and the pay was seventeen thousand and change. (I was only on a half load with the other half of my funding coming from other duties like supervising grad students but the following numbers still hold).
If you break it down that comes to less than twenty-five hundred a three hour course. With the exception of a couple of upper level courses, my sections generally ranged from twenty-five to one hundred and fifty students. That means that the per student cost associated with the lecture portion of one of those courses ranged from less than one hundred dollars at the top end to around fifteen dollars at the bottom.
If someone has some current numbers I'd be glad to update the post but as far as I can tell, while tuition has continued to climb since my lecturer days, adjunct salaries have, at best, kept up with inflation and certainly haven't grown enough to be a major driver of education costs. But what's really amazing isn't that you can get people to take these jobs at this pay; it's that you can find wildly overqualified people -- promising scholars, gifted lecturers -- willing to take these jobs. That's how flooded the supply of would-be professors is.
There are well-paid, even over-compensated professors out there but they are all paid primarily for something other than teaching, be it their research or their reputation (which reflects on the school) or the grants they pull in. We can and probably should have a serious discussion about these roles (maybe starting here) but that's a different conversation.
As for controlling tuition by reducing instructor costs, that conversation has to start with a realistic picture of how much people who are hired simply to teach actually make.
Report from Bangalore, 2013
28 minutes ago