Phi Beta Cons

Regulations Adds Heavily to the Cost of College

One reason why college education costs much more than it needs to is that it’s subject to heavy regulatory costs that must be passed along to students. Last year, Vanderbilt published a study showing that tuition there is some $11,000 higher than otherwise due to regulatory compliance costs. The former general counsel at Penn State says that higher education is among the most heavily regulated industries in the country.

In today’s Pope Center piece, Jenna Robinson and Jesse Saffron look at the crushing burden of regulations. They cite a Mercatus Center study showing that from 1997 to 2012, there was a 56 percent increase in federal mandates for colleges and universities. “Bureaucrats now dictate campus policies regulating academics, sexual assault, athletics, dining, technology, employment, campus construction, and student health,” they write. But federal officials don’t bear the costs of their meddling and continually find new things that they want to bring under their control. 

Too bad the federal government ever got into higher education in the first place. As I have often pointed out, there is no role for it in education under the Constitution.

Robinson and Saffron point to one bright spot, namely the attention that this problem is now getting from higher education leaders and politicians on both sides of the aisle. In 2013, they formed a Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education, intending to attack the “jungle of red tape” that’s tying up our colleges and universities. Perhaps some good will come from that.

In North Carolina, the cost of federal regulation has been calculated at around $2,500 per student. Incoming UNC president Margaret Spellings could and should make it one of her priorities to reduce that. Given her background as Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, she might be able to build support for action to lower the regulatory burden, here and across the country. If Spellings could do that, it would benefit those many students who have decided to protest against her, even though she’s had no opportunity to do anything yet.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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