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Higher Ed Bubble
How to Fight Administrative Bloat on Campus

Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has been leading the charge against administrative bloat and wasteful spending on college campuses over the past few years, and he’s at it again with an excellent new piece at USA Today. He argues that the rise in administrative costs has been driving much of the tuition increases over the past few decades, noting that the student to professional staff ratio has fallen by over 50 percent since 1975. Reynolds has some good ideas to reverse the trend:

When asked what single step would do the most good, I’ve often responded semi-jokingly that U.S. News and World Report should adjust its college-ranking formula to reward schools with low costs and lean administrator-to-student ratios. But that’s not really a joke. Given schools’ exquisite sensitivity to the U.S. News rankings, that step would probably have more impact than most imaginable government regulations. […]

Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., among others, are promoting legislation to claw back financial aid from schools that have too many graduates who are unable to pay their student loans, which would provide some incentive to keep tuition, and student indebtedness down. (I have proposed something similar, making student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy after a number of years, as they used to be, but leaving the schools on the hook for a percentage of the discharged debt. That would provide a greater incentive.)

But the biggest challenges facing overpriced and bloated institutions will come from technology and the market. With lower-priced alternatives appearing online just as buyer resistance to increased tuition is taking off, colleges must adapt.

In the past month alone, two separate studies have confirmed that administrative hiring has skyrocketed over the past few decades and has contributed significantly to the rise in tuition. Policymakers and college presidents need to begin thinking thinking about how to change course, and fast. This would be a good place to start. Read the whole thing.

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  • ljgude

    I am 71 and a veteran of institutions of Higher Education both in the US and Australia. and as both a student and a faculty member and with the exception of the view as an undergraduate at Columbia, administrators were always the most important people on campus. Not that they were unimportant at Columbia, but at least as an undergraduate it was the big name academics who seemed most important to us as naive undergraduates. There was Lionel Trilling of the English department for example, who later begat Edward Said who begat Obama…but I digress. Everywhere else it was the president, the barely disguised CEO, who was the most important while the faculty was relegated to the role of fractious employees. The trend was plain in the 60s. At their best these corporatist leaders and their ever growing bureaucratic cadres were visionaries who really did build better institutions that met community needs. But mostly they just served themselves and their hangers on and have ended up continuously debasing the value higher education. .I think the root cause of this little social disaster is a category mistake. We have aped the success of our for profit corporations (from Standard Oil to Google) and forgotten what universities are for – to prepare the next generation to carry on in their turn and instead made them into profit making institutions where the students become customers to be exploited rather than our posterity to be developed for the common good. Professor Meade, I notice, comes out from the Ivory Tower (made safe, no doubt, by the Rooks and Bishops of the Bard administration) into the rough and tumble of the intellectual commons on the Internet and brings his interns with him. And. Brings. His. Interns. With. Him. – who will go on ably, long after he and I have passed from this world.

    • Jim__L

      Since the 60’s, eh?

      That explains how the academy was taken over by intellectually useless radicals — pandering. Simple pandering. I’ve often wondered how that was allowed to happen.

      Now, how to turn it around? Can the very entrenched nature of these useless “intellectuals” be used against them?

      • ljgude

        I wasn’t trying to explain academic radicalism, but administrative bloat in Higher ed. I was certainly well placed at Columbia to see the beginnings of 60s radicalism in the academy and indeed I did witness the build up to it graduating in ’64. But it was at the state universities, and other second and third tier institutions that I noticed the primacy of administrators and found the same pattern in Australia when I came to teach here in ’76. I think there is a connection between the corporatism of the administrators and the remarkably uniform leftist politics of the faculty room which in part arises from the natural tension between management and labor. In my experience the corporatist administrators treated faculty as common laborers extracting higher productivity in the form of greater teaching loads as my career progressed. I think faculty have responded in many cases like spoiled children and well …weed in the soup by mendaciously subverting the academic search for truth by teaching reductionist leftist ideology. I think there is much more to it, but that is where I start trying to connect the two.

  • free_agent

    You write, “Given schools’ exquisite sensitivity to the U.S. News rankings”.

    That’s quite true. I’ve talked to administrators at my alma mater, and they report that if the school drops a few places on the USN rankings one year, the professors can tell the next year that the freshmen are noticeably less smart.

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