As has often been the case in the past six decades, a well-intentioned, albeit misguided federal college cost-reduction program is licensing colleges to continue raising tuition fees regardless of how they are impacted by costs. Since the early 1980s, tuition has outdistanced the inflation rate by a country mile. Colleges know that this is a great deal for them. With unlimited loan money available from the federal trough and the likelihood of some periodic government debt forgiveness, they can continue to raise tuition an average of 8 percent a year (for the past 50 years!). They have no incentive to control costs.
And higher education is nothing if not agile when it comes to drowning students and their families in debt. Especially in a time like the present when the ostensible justification for hiking tuition is being handed to them on a silver platter, namely the highest inflation in 40 years. Life may be a tough challenge for everyone else, but these are salad days for college administrators.
For one thing, more money tsunami-ing across college transoms mean that our Institutions of Higher Earning can continue to hire more administrators. They have been doing this at such a feverish pace in the 21st century that administrators now outnumber faculty at the majority of America’s colleges and universities. Over the last 30 years, the number of academic bureaucrats has doubled, vastly outpacing enrollment. Here are some administrative job titles I found in searching university websites. I defer to anyone who can explain what these jobs actually entail:
- Assistant Director of Affinity Group Leadership
- Educational Talent Search Academic Advisor
- Coordinator of Community Standards
- Senior User Experience Analyst
- Office Concierge
- Associate Dean of People
- Director of Disruption
- Nourishment Consultant
- Chief Visionary
- Assistant Director of Retreats and Discernment
- Assistant Director of LoveWorks
- College Mobilizer
- Discipleship Coordinator
- Hall Minister in a University Residence
- Summer Sacristan
- Modality Manager
- Coordinator of Interpretive Teaching
These are just some of the positions that parents pay for when they send their offspring off to college. They are also paying for costly buildings in which to house universities’ bloated bureaucracies. When you approach many colleges from afar, the number of campus construction cranes may delude you into believing that these communities have just won the competition for the next Olympics and are building new stadiums and arenas.
Moreover, administrators are, to put it mildly, handsomely compensated. Taking my alma mater as representative, annual compensation is as follows (from IRS filings):
8 earned more than $1 million.
6 additional administrators earned more than $500,000.
7 additional administrators earned more than $250,000.
An untold number of additional administrators earned more than $100,000.
Not bad, unless you happen to be a hard-working parent straining to make tuition payments.
If government and society really want to make college affordable, there are many ways to do so. Every public institution and virtually every private college receives tons of taxpayer money every year for research and development, contracts and numerous other campus activities. In addition, the tax benefits these institutions receive are massive, and include not only exemption from income taxes, but also from property taxes. All of this means that the potential for effective carrot-and-stick approaches to college cost reduction is immense.
So why do Congress and Presidents look the other way?
One very key reason is the proliferation of higher ed lobbying. Hundreds of colleges and universities have opened Washington, DC offices and hired armies of lobbyists to make sure that the powers-that-be in Washington and state capitals make nice. This is in addition to the proliferation of academic trade and professional associations that bring higher ed institutions together to form powerful lobbying organizations. Moreover, according to Open Secrets, individuals associated with academia contributed close to $100 million to 2020 political campaigns (colleges and universities cannot form political action committees).
Since Congress is not likely to ban lobbying and public financing of political campaigns is not going to happen anytime soon, it is only parents, students and alumni that can hold universities and politicians’ feet to the fire.
October 7, 2022