Kaufman: University Bloat Must Be Trimmed

Elite schools will survive, but the overall shortfall in applicants already hit many colleges, including here in Minnesota, hard. It’s past time for the educational ochlocracy to get leaner and join the real world.

I graduated from college 20 years ago this week.

While I don’t recall the amount of my last tuition payment, it’s clear the price has since skyrocketed. There are many reasons for the rise, but the main culprit is a ballooning campus administrative bureaucracy.

Four decades ago, university administration comprised only one-fourth of total educational spending by colleges, while instructional spending comprised two-fifths. Latest reports available show the two categories are now basically even, at over 40%. Federal data also shows “managerial” employees on campus have grown 20 percent, far outpacing students and faculty. How does this benefit families paying exorbitant tuition? 

NYU Professor Scott Galloway said during a May interview, “There’s a recognition that education — the value, the price, the product — has fundamentally shifted. The value of education has been substantially degraded.”

This may be due to the coronavirus pandemic removing in-person education, since paying $60,000 to take substandard classes from home via Zoom seems profligate. Universities often live in fiscal fantasyland and therefore claim tuition prices shouldn’t lessen, even if students can’t go to campus.

“Universities are still in a period of consensual hallucination, with each saying, ‘We’re going to maintain these prices for what has become, overnight, a dramatically less compelling product offering,’” Galloway explained.

He recommends a “gap year” after high school — and not a globetrotting party like Malia Obama. I’d encourage part-time work and a cross-country drive. You’ll learn more than in the classroom. 

It’s also undeniable that, primarily due to helicopter parenting and social media, many 18-year-olds are not prepared for the competition and freedom that college offers.

Universities are among the biggest businesses (Harvard is a corporation, as is NPR, the ACLU and NY Times) in America. Their ultimate goal, however, is supposedly educating students, not turning a profit. But what’s the incentive to lower costs? Maybe once a drop-off in applicants shows a decrease in revenue?

“Business is very attuned to the problem of overhead, and they have a clear financial interest in periodically restructuring their organizations to eliminate excess bureaucracy,” Centre College Economist Robert Martin claims. “They have to preserve profitability. The same thing is true in higher education, except there’s no profitability requirement.”

A glance at my alma mater’s current faculty roster reveals a similar size, yet the administration — job titles with the word “analyst,” “specialist” or “relations” in them — has easily tripled. Why?

“The interesting thing about the administrative bloat in higher education is, literally, nobody knows who all these people are or what they’re doing,” George Mason University Professor Todd Zywicki said last year. 

This sharp upswing needs to be examined and remedied. You don’t need six-figure salaries for dozens of “associate vice presidents” as we now see.

And then there’s the prodigious pension train, bankrupting states and causing soaring tuition. It’s probably easier to defeat the Red Army than retired professors.  

Nearly 6,000 University of California system retirees receive pensions over $100,000, with 35 in excess of $300,000. The number of college personnel collecting six-figure pensions has increased 60% this decade. Someone without a pension would need to save almost $3 million to guarantee a similar retirement income.

To top it off, U.C. schools — nearly 200,000 faculty strong — prefer to focus on solutions in search of problems.

Overseen by the inept Janet Napolitano, they recently bowed to wokeness and announced SAT scores are no longer required  for sundry reasons. My alma mater is nearly 90% minority and the U.C. system is about 70%, far higher than the national average. There are many campus issues not involving money but this is not one.

As we debate reopening schools, let’s encourage campuses to trim down for survival. I know it’s wishful thinking, as most avaricious academics will oppose returning to work since they are always getting paid, but this is easily and safely accomplished. 

Elite schools will survive, but the overall shortfall in applicants already hit many colleges, including here in Minnesota, hard. It’s past time for the educational ochlocracy to get leaner and join the real world.