As Glenn Reynolds notes, the results of a recent study on the quality of college education comes as no real surprise for anyone paying attention.

Inside Higher Ed writer Scott Jaschik reveals the data in his report:

Everyone knows there’s a reason the most expensive colleges in the country — generally private residential institutions — charge so much. The money they spend on hiring the best faculty members (full-timers of course) and on keeping student-faculty ratios low results in a higher-quality education. Right?

The crowd gathered here for a standing-room-only session at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities certainly wanted to believe. From a show of hands at the start of the session, the vast majority of attendees were administrators at those institutions. And the researchers who presented new data on the economics of liberal arts education threw cold water all over that conventional wisdom.

Research presented here by researchers from Wabash College — and based on national data sets — finds that there may be a minimal relationship between what colleges spend on education and the quality of the education students receive. Further, the research suggests that colleges that spend a fraction of what others do, and operate with much higher student-faculty ratios and greater use of part-time faculty members, may be succeeding educationally as well as their better-financed (and more prestigious) counterparts.

…The Wabash National Study (also done by the center Blaich leads) tracks 45 colleges and universities, most of them liberal arts colleges, but also other kinds of institutions. The study is designed to identify measures of good practice that result in students at all educational levels learning more. Four such practices (for which there are scales) are “good teaching with high quality interactions with faculty,” high expectations and academic challenge, interaction with ideas and people different from one’s own, and “deep learning” through characteristics identified by the National Survey of Student Engagement.For the new study, the 45 colleges were examined based on their spending on educational purposes while also looking at their scores on the measures that are correlated with increased student learning.

The result was that there was only a very small relationship between spending on education and the quality of the educational experience as measured by those four factors. The relationship is so small that Blaich said that a college would have to spend an additional $5 million per 1,000 students to increase the “good practice” score (on a scale of 100) by a single point.