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How Regulation Creates Higher Ed Administrative Bloat

Yes, the student debt crisis is very much out of control. And yes, much of the tuition inflation is due to administrative bloat on college campuses. But why is there administrative bloat, exactly? As Arthur F. Kirk of Saint Leo University argues in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the reason for skyrocketing administrative costs is overregulation by an out-of-control federal bureaucracy:

Much, but certainly not all, of the much-maligned “administrative bloat” is driven by external forces, societal demands, and regulations from the federal government, the states, the NCAA, accreditors, and insurers. In addition to state and local laws, higher-education institutions are required to comply with federal laws too numerous to count. The website of the Higher Education Compliance Alliance lists many of them, but there are others.

A simple count does not reflect the complexities institutions face, as the Higher Education Act alone is 900 pages long. Higher education is regulated by every cabinet-level department and numerous subagencies. One small private college documented that 106 employees logged 7,200 hours completing federal compliance forms. Some regulations were promulgated to call us to account for why our tuition costs so much.

To the extent this holds true across all of higher ed—and Kirk’s story makes for a compelling and suggestive case study—it just shows how terribly blunt and ultimately counterproductive a tool federal legislation is for tackling complex problems like these. We need to get creative about how to incentivize colleges to lower tuition, and make sure that the solution isn’t secretly contributing to the problem.

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  • lord acton

    Hmmm. Sounds exactly like health care.

    • Preston Pate

      I concur.

  • Corlyss

    Well, of course there was administrative bloat before fed regulations got to be gnat that swallowed the elephant. Fed regulations are like chemotherapy: they coincidentally attack the area of greatest weakness and make the entire system sicker.

  • Andrew Allison

    The solution appears simple, outsource compliance (it’s nonsensical that every institution has to develop and maintain this skill set).

  • Fat_Man

    At least this is story about costs. Most tuition stories are about how to increase revenue.

  • qet

    This effect is not confined to any single sector of the economy. A very influential swath of the American intelligentsia firmly believes that “productivity” is a desideratum of legislation and regulation no less than of factory output. We are a productivity-obsessed culture and our legislatures–all 51 of them (not counting local governments)–and regulatory agencies–uncountable like the sands of the Sahara–are expected to increase their productivity annually. I am always dumbfounded when I read people like Ezra Klein making this kind of government productivity argument. No wonder the Constitution is incomprehensible to him.

    • Andrew Allison

      Productivity legislation and regulation appears to me to significantly outrank Military Intelligence on the oxymoronic scale! Productivity implies the production of goods and services, neither of which are objectives of legislation or regulation.

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