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.