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Considering the Rising Cost of College and Administrative Bloat

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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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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In July 2016, he retired as APUS president and continued as CEO of APEI. In September 2017, he was reappointed APUS president after the resignation of Dr. Karan Powell. In September 2019, Angela Selden was named CEO of APEI, succeeding Dr. Boston who will remain APUS president until his planned retirement in June 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. During his tenure, APUS grew to over 100,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 90,000 alumni. In addition to his service as a board member of APUS and APEI, Dr. Boston is a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, a board member of the Presidents’ Forum, and a board member of Hondros College of Nursing and Fidelis, Inc. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. Dr. Boston lives in Owings Mills, MD with his wife Sharon and their two daughters.

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