The Corner

America’s Bloated Colleges

Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colarado, Boulder, argues that contrary to popular belief, it is not in fact the case that declining public expenditures on higher education that are driving rising tuition. He points to other factors, including the “constant expansion of university administration.” But why do we see so much administrative bloat? Is it because of the costs associated with regulatory compliance? Is it because administrators are offering a wide array of valuable support services that a less affluent, more diverse student population requires, or more expensive amenities to attract fee-paying students? Or is it all of the above?

In December of 2012, Douglas Belkin and Scott Thurm of the Wall Street Journal reported on the growth in nonclassroom costs at the University of Minnesota, and the results were sobering. The most striking thing about the spending at the University of Minnesota is how absent-minded it all seems. Belkin and Thurm write that “[f]or decades, public universities were somewhat insulated from financial rigor by steadily increasing state funding,” which is if anything an understatement. As the economy recovers, however, we can expect that the mild turn towards “austerity” will be reversed. Why? Because the growth of administrative payrolls translates directly into the growth of political power. The more administrators, the more voters whose livelihood depends on higher education funding. Andrew Kelly of AEI has made this point on numerous occasions. Students, meanwhile, are socialized into the belief that their universities are the good guys, fighting the good fight against skinflints who want to impose spending discipline out of greed, narrow-mindedness, or an indifference to the interests of young people. It’s a neat little business model, and it will take a lot to do something about it.

Fortunately, it seems that Americans are growing more skeptical of the claims made by the higher-ed industrial complex, and that creates an opening. In “A Real Education Market,” Kelly outlined steps for how we could make higher education in America more cost-effective and more responsive to the interests of students and taxpayers alike. Others, including Richard Vedder of Ohio University, have offered thoughts on how we might rethink financial aid. And it seems that some elected officials, like Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), are willing to push at least some of these ideas forward. Call me crazy, but I’m cautiously optimistic. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
Law & the Courts

What the Second Amendment Means Today

The horrifying school massacre in Parkland, Fla., has prompted another national debate about guns. Unfortunately, it seems that these conversations are never terribly constructive — they are too often dominated by screeching extremists on both sides of the aisle and armchair pundits who offer sweeping opinions ... Read More

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More