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

Broward’s Cowards

It is impossible to imagine circumstances under which Broward County sheriff Scott Israel could attempt to perform his duties with the confidence of the public. He should resign immediately, and if, as he promises, he refuses to go quietly, then he should be shown the door by the people he professes to ... Read More

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

CNN’s Shameful Town Hall

CNN recently hosted an anti-gun town hall featuring a number of grieving children and parents from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who aimed their ire at the National Rifle Association, politicians peripherally associated with the NRA, and anyone who didn’t say exactly what they wanted to hear. ... Read More

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More