Considering the Rising Cost of College and Administrative Bloat

During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, fewer articles about higher education are published, primarily because colleges and universities are closed and faculty, students, and administrators are not around.  On December 28, 2012, however, The Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy- and Tuition.”  The article doesn’t appear to have been picked up in too many other places.  I read an article entitled “Administrative Bloat at America’s Colleges and Universities,” however, on December 30 in Outside the Beltway that wrote about the WSJ article and added a few comments as well.  Both articles are worth reading.

Essentially, in the WSJ article, Doug Belkin and Scott Thurm report about how much administrative costs have contributed to increasing college costs over the 10 years between 2001 and 2011.  The authors use specific examples from the University of Minnesota which they report to have the largest share of employees classified as “executive/administrative and managerial” among the 72 “very-high-research” public universities in the 2011-2012 academic year.   At the same time, they report that employees that  colleges and universities hired to “manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors” during the same ten year period according to data obtained from the U.S. Department of Education.

The authors cite a Bain & Co. 2010 analysis of the University of California at Berkeley that found that supervisors managed an average of 5.1 employees.  By reorganizing and increasing the average to 7.1, UC Berkeley saved $20.5 million annually.

James Joyner, the author of the article “Administrative Bloat at America’s Colleges and Universities” published by Outside the Beltway, mentioned that the impact of the administrative cost bloat on students is tremendous.  He cites the fact that in 1975, a University of Minnesota undergraduate could cover tuition by working six hours a week year-round at a minimum-wage job.  Today, a student would have to work 32 hours at minimum wage to cover the cost.  Neither of the articles’ authors mentions the cost impact on working adult students.  Apply the same scenario to someone living paycheck to paycheck to support themselves and their family.  In 1975, they could cover the incremental cost of tuition by working a few extra hours of overtime or through a part-time job.  Today, they would almost have to work two jobs which would make it almost impossible to find the time to attend classes and complete coursework as well as to spend any quality time with family.  The adult college completion rate is not good but few studies look at the impact of juggling many balls in the air including funding the cost of tuition on an adult student.

A number of people have called for an overhaul of the federal financial aid system when Congress considers the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.  It would be my hope that Congress would request extensive hearings and compilation of research regarding the causes of tuition increases as well as the impact of increased costs on a variety of students, not just the traditional 18-22 year old group that now represents less than 25 percent of all college attendees.

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