Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 3, 2019

Stop Feeding College Bureaucratic Bloat: Congress Should Tie Student Loans To Ratio Of Administrators To Faculty

Wall Street Journal op-ed:  Stop Feeding College Bureaucratic Bloat, by Philip Hamburger (Columbia):

American higher education faces many difficulties, not least soaring costs and the decline of academic freedom. Administrative bloat, subsidized by the federal government, makes both these problems worse.

A 2014 analysis by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found that from 1987 to 2012, the higher-education sector added more than half a million administrators. Their numbers have doubled relative to academic faculty. Financed in large part with federally subsidized tuition, this rise of administrators siphons money from the core functions of academic institutions. Colleges and universities have shifted teaching duties from full-time professors to part-time nontenured adjuncts who earn paltry wages.

Congress can combat this transformation of the university by reforming student-loan programs. The U.S. government offers student loans without regard to the ratio of administrators to full-time tenured faculty at the school receiving the funds. Congressional largess to students has thus changed the nature of the higher-education system. It has enabled colleges and universities to expand and entrench a class of employees whose interests often conflict with a serious education.

Administrators serve many valuable functions. They can help students and save time for faculty. But their growth in numbers has coincided with some disturbing trends. Governance of academic institutions traditionally rested with the faculty, especially full-time tenured faculty. But the relative decline of faculty has shifted the balance of power toward administrators, who increasingly control academic policy.

It’s no accident that as they have hired more administrators, these institutions have veered toward indoctrination and censorious intrusions into speech, opinion and personal life. These heavy-handed policies are often incompatible with traditional educational ideals, such as academic freedom, freedom of speech, open-mindedness and dispassionate judgment. To be sure, many faculty support such policies, but the most consistent pressure for them typically comes from the administrative bureaucracy. Congress should recognize that its funding helped create this threat to education.

When authorizing student loans, Congress should take into account the ratio of administrators to full-time tenured faculty. ...

One might still protest that Congress should not be in the business of reshaping education. But that is precisely what Congress has been doing for decades. Its loans have facilitated the growth of the education-administrative complex and thereby undermined academic governance and values. Congress should reform its lending to stop subsidizing the rise of administrators at the cost of education.

(Hat Tip: Steven Sholk.)

Update:  Michael Simkovic (USC), The Myth of Administrative Bloat in Higher Education:

I sympathize with Professor Hamburger’s desire to strengthen the role of tenured faculty in university governance.  But stripping universities of resources—or giving universities perverse incentives to evade anti-administration regulations by outsourcing or automating managerial tasks when it is costlier and less effective to do so—is not the right way to accomplish such goals. ...

There is no evidence of “administrative bloat” in higher education. To the contrary, colleges and universities dedicate a much lower share of their workforce to managerial occupations than other industries such as real estate and construction, financial services, energy, entertainment, software and technology industries, religious organizations, professional services, and architecture and engineering firms. (OES data here).

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Nom, your comment would seem relevant to K-12 public education generally, but irrelevant to college and university level schooling, where educational loans exist.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 7, 2019 11:03:30 AM

Unless and until the federal and state departments of education are minimized and local control returned, none of these attacks on the margin will matter. And accreditation bodies exacerbate the problems.

Posted by: Nom de Blog | Jun 4, 2019 6:49:38 AM

An excellent idea. Sub-prime lending to prospective college students can function only if no hard questions are asked about the economic value of what will be purchased with the loan proceeds. Since it is unlikely that anything remotely like a detailed "business plan" will ever be required of a loan applicant, a threshold administrator/teacher ratio might at least serve to disqualify some marginal institutions while acting as a brake on the rate of tuition increase at all of them.

Posted by: John | Jun 4, 2019 4:09:29 AM