mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
bureaucratic bloat
Why Higher Education Is Stagnating

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good explainer on the expanding layers of bureaucracy that are making American higher education cost more and more without measurably improving the quality of thinking or breadth of knowledge among graduates:

When students arrive on a campus, they’re looking for services and amenities, many of which colleges have not traditionally offered. Student services — such as help applying for a scholarship, aid in landing a job, mental-health counseling, top-notch residence halls, wellness centers, study-abroad opportunities, and orientation programs that include adventure trips — are all a given on many campuses these days. And each new service or amenity comes with the professional staff to run it. […]

Growing organizations grapple with problems that bureaucrats tend to think can be solved by creating more bureaucracy. For example, an institution that wants to become more sustainable would probably name a chief sustainability officer and then build a staff for that person to oversee.

One reason this problem is hard to tackle is that the Left and Right disagree on the ultimate cause of the bloat. Many progressives see it as a product of the free market: If students and parents select colleges based on the quality of student spas and diversity centers and other amenities, then of course colleges will tailor their offerings to meet that demand. The real question is how to make access to college even more universal. Conservatives, meanwhile, are more likely to point to overweening government, including unnecessary regulations, which require more staff to implement, and to federal student loan programs, which pay the salaries of well-organized bureaucrats and end up funding superfluous services that colleges might otherwise forego.

There is some truth to both of these analyses, but neither side is offering a realistic program for how to address the underlying problem. “Free college” programs, now popular among Democrats, will simply make the underlying cost even higher, even if they shift it to taxpayers rather than consumers. And GOP slash-and-burn efforts at state universities often extract theatrical budget cuts without actually excising the source of the rot. Student tuitions go up and faculty salaries are frozen, but the bureaucratic bloat isn’t actually rolled back.

Perhaps the best hope for reducing bloat is the entrance of new types of educational institutions into the market—ones that don’t have state-of-the-art gyms and legions of guidance counselors, but that offer a high-quality education at a significantly lower price. There have been germs of efforts along these lines at the elite level. Whether they can get a big enough foothold in the higher education market to make a difference remains to be seen.

Features Icon
Features
show comments
  • Beauceron

    Honestly, should the public care at this point? The problem is not just the administration and the faculty, it’s the students themselves.

    Love the first part of this video, posted a few days ago from Evergreen State College, where a group of students have cornered a college prof/administrator and are chanting at her “racist professors have got to go!”

    She probably spent her whole life on the Left battling for its causes and helping establish its ideologies as the status quo on campus, and there she is, cornered like a rat by the monsters she herself help create, eyes wide, mute, clearly scared. Hard to have any sympathy for her at all.

    When this is what happens on so many campuses, who cares about how expensive it is, or how bloated the administration has become. You’re arguing about how to fix it. I am starting wonder if it’s worth saving at all. At some point the rot has gone to deep, the cancer metastasized to such an extent, that the body simply can’t be saved anyway.

    • nervous122

      Exactly. Let these ignorant brats pay top dollar for tuition et al, only to graduate with crushing debt and nonexistent job prospects.

    • Boritz

      Sounds like she has seen Peter Cushing play the role of Frankenstein and knew that near the end of the movie there is no point in shouting “Get back! Get back!”

    • Fat_Man

      “The Campus Mob Came for Me—and You, Professor, Could Be Next: Whites were asked to leave for a ‘Day of Absence.’ I objected. Then 50 yelling students crashed my class.” by Bret Weinstein on May 30, 2017.
      https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-campus-mob-came-for-meand-you-professor-could-be-next-1496187482

      • Beauceron

        That was a great article, bro.

        Thanks for sharing.

        • Fat_Man

          Da Nada, Don Beauceron.

  • QET

    The real question is how to make access to college even more universal

    This isn’t the real question at all; not by a long shot.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Indeed, your comment discloses a growing mindset in The Right’s circle. The QUESTION from that side is how to go about convincing a large number of young people that higher education is unnecessary altogether. Don’t worry about that libtard college stuff, kids. You’re all on track to become Joe, The Plumber. At 50, you’ll all have good jobs on HS educations and life in Conservative America will be soooo sweet for you——“You’ll get tired of winning. You’ll say, hold up, we can’t stand this much winning.”

      • QET

        Most jobs in this country, as in all countries, are jobs that requite training, not education. It is not as though the only two choices are: go to college, or work at Starbucks. If your concern is with the financial prospects of a kid considering 4-year college, then you ought to consider whether he might not fare better if he learns a skilled trade. A look at income data for say, plumbers and electricians versus non-STEM college graduates, factoring in the debt the college graduate is likely to be saddled with, suggests the former might be a better alternative. And if you want to factor out the debt by arguing that if college is fully paid for by the government for all, then there is no debt, then perhaps the difference between a trade and a college degree might not be so great, but I also know that you want the government to pay for everyone’s health care, and everyone’s retirement, and for a great many other things, and I just can’t understand where you imagine the funding for all of these things will come from.

        • FriendlyGoat

          I’m not a fan of for-profit colleges, but University of Phoenix ran this ad a lot last year. They were not lying to the audience. https://www.popisms.com/TelevisionCommercial/121505/University-of-Phoenix-Commercial-2016.aspx

          • Boritz

            That looks like an awful lot of work. There is a much easier way and millions have found it. The University of Largesse. I don’t know if they have a video but if they did it wouldn’t be as exhausting to watch as that one.

          • FriendlyGoat

            U of P has marketed to a lot of older students who didn’t do college straight out of HS and later wish they had, because life is hard in dead-end jobs. They are “selling” with that ad to folks who WANT to “have a brain” and “rise”. Again, not endorsing the U of P model, I am not one for downplaying education to ANYBODY except those who absolutely, positively cannot get through it.

          • QET

            This is blocked at my work. But though I have not really looked into U of Phoenix, I have never bought into its distinction as a “for-profit” college. Harvard and Yale are every bit as for-profit as U of Phoenix.

          • FriendlyGoat

            When you’re on some other computer, look up University of Phoenix “If I only Had a Brain” ad. Though I have mixed feelings about the advisability of these programs for some people, I thought it was really good advertising from THEIR point of view at U of P. To the meat of all this, CERTAINLY other forms of college are being oversold too. The key is to get in a program one can, first of all, finish. The next key is to not accumulate debt that does not justify the degree taken. As for Harvard/Yale, I wouldn’t know. I went to a state college—–affordable and adequate for me at the time, 4-yr degree in three years, 1969-1972.

        • jtdavies

          I’m currently working at my STEM job to earn money to pay the carpenters, electricians, masons, and excavation experts that are doing the real work to add on to my house. I have no lack of respect for these men and their vocations.

      • seattleoutcast

        The problem with this argument is that you believe a college degree is actually worth something. It is sometimes worthwhile if it is a STEM degree and you don’t have to compete against H1B Visas. However, for the majority of students with a liberal arts degree, it is only a pre-requisite for a job that they may or may not get.

        Years ago what you said was true. But since the mid eighties, at the latest, it has not been true.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Careful, when you date a problematic effect to the mid-eighties, you come perilously close to joining my camp where we correctly identify high-end tax cuts as having been the root of many, many evils.

          • seattleoutcast

            No, it has nothing to do with funding. Schools are awash with cash. Universities used to mean a quality education, and since the 80s, the quality has gone down because the change in teaching methods since the sixties has created mediocre grads. What on earth can a feminism major offer the workplace?

          • FriendlyGoat

            1) A feminism major can offer the workplace a similar skill set as can be offered by a woman who masters the writings and philosophies of Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, Ayn Rand, Phyllis Schlafly, Condoleeza Rice and Laura Schlesinger. The difference is who pays who to spout exactly WHAT line to WHOM and for WHAT purpose. When you make fun of women of the (far) Left you are also making fun of women of the (far) Right. If you “won’t”, I or someone else “will”.

            2) When I spoke of tax cuts being at the root of many problems, I was not speaking of the reduction in funding for the colleges, although reductions in state funding of the state schools certainly is contributing to college debt accumulation. I was speaking of the job destruction associated with high-end tax cuts.

          • Jim__L

            Aaaand his favorite hobbyhorse is back!

          • TheDarkHelmet

            High end tax rates, and the share of taxes paid by upper income earners, have steadily risen since 1986. Top rate in 1986: 28%. Top rate now: about 43%.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yeah, it’s a long road back from Reaganism. But, if people wonder why CEO’s, trial lawyers, doctors, entertainers (including sports) and financial traders have been making out like bandits while workers slide ever downward into the soup, they should look no further than the Reagan tax reductions. There is that 20 trillion of debt, too, of course. There was nothing wrong with 50% rates at some levels—–even 75% at some levels. Most of what is done to capture truly astronomical personal incomes are NOT activities which end up being in your interest. Quite the opposite.

          • ptsargent

            For crying out loud why don’t liberals grow up. The high-end tax cuts of the ’80’s unleashed the stagnant economy by providing more investment capital and entrepreneurial activity. What tanked the economy after Clinton rode the growing economy for two terms was excess credit created to accommodate the everybody-in-a-home Democrat Party construct unleashed by Clinton and co., which led directly to phony mortgages et.al., and the eventual collapse of the two government sponsored housing financing entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Thank the Black Caucus and the rest of the Democrat Congress for pressuring banks and the financial system (FRS) for this mess from which we are still suffering the aftereffects. Lesson: Too much money (credit) available equals malinvestments. Basic economics!

  • Pait

    Old people have been complaining about young people for as long as written records run. Yes they’ll always find some current example of the young misbehaving. So what?

    • QET

      Right. So the conclusion must therefore be: complaints from the old against the young are never ever justified, period. We don’t even need to look into the substance of the complaint. Q.E.D.

      • ——————————

        He called you a troll in a comment where he replied to himself, instead of you…not sure why.
        He also called me a troll during an exchange a few weeks back. I tried a few times to exchange with him, but he doesn’t address the content of my comments, so I won’t exchange with him anymore.

        Funny thing is is that he only shows up periodically, and then throws flames in here…doesn’t that make him the troll?…it does….

    • Pait

      No, the conclusion is life is too short to waste time discussing with anonymous trolls.They should have the last word.

      • Fred

        So calling someone on an obvious non sequitur is trolling now? What is it a microaggression?

  • Boritz

    “quality of thinking or breadth of knowledge among graduates”

    These are mostly undesirable characteristics within a movement that quite literally believes they are the progenitors of reality. A few will naturally exhibit these characteristics and be brought into the inner circle.

  • Andrew Allison

    “measurably improving the quality of thinking or breadth of knowledge among graduates” Surely you jest! There’s little doubt that the quality of thinking or breadth of knowledge among graduates has declined to the point that baccalaureate degrees are good only for screening job applicants.

  • TheDarkHelmet

    Eliminate all federal funding including subsidized federal loans and the costs will go down. As an additional bonus, half of the indoctrination centers are likely to go bust and shut down.

  • InklingBooks

    Quote: “Perhaps the best hope for reducing bloat is the entrance of new types of educational institutions into the market—ones that don’t have state-of-the-art gyms and legions of guidance counselors, but that offer a high-quality education at a significantly lower price.”

    That’s a good remark with one caveat. Not so long ago, many schools didn’t offer these amenities. Some trend in academia drove them to do so, such that we’re now hoping some will go back to simply offering a quality education. But the question remains, why did they move that way? Why didn’t the necessarily higher costs deter them?

    There, the problem lies in federal loans that, given student naivety, lets colleges increase costs and pass those costs on. That wasn’t true when I attended college from 1966-1972. Then, college had to be pay as you go and all the incentives were to keep costs down. I worked my way school and graduated broke, but I did finish debt-free without any scholarships. That’s almost impossible today.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service