Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending
Racial Progress in Alabama


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What many of those administrators do is little or nothing of value, yet paying for them and their foolish activities contributes to the massive increases in the cost of attending college. In fact, the "diversity coordinators" actually create negative value with their stupid, pernicious "sensitivity training," sundry propagandizing, grievance manufacturing and villification of whites--especially Christian, heterosexual males.

Of course Ms Cooper-Morning should not be engaged in this sort of activity, and certainly not while on the job at U. Colorado, using their phones and her office. Though I think this may actually be preferable to dividing people along racial, ethnic, religious and sexual-orientation lines, and then inciting inter-group conflict.

Heh--so she's less of a menace to civilization when she's running her sex business than when she's doing her job? That is all too plausible.

Rising college costs are an interesting phenomenon. More later, but part of the problem is that a lot of those administrators are actually needed, from one point of view--the need to please accrediting agencies and the government.

"Rising college costs are an interesting phenomenon."

Two observations:

1) Administrative overhead has gone way up, probably 3 or 4 times what it was 40 years ago. And yet all those colleges and universities seemed to function just fine without it back then--probably better than now. So what added value are these administrators providing?

2) Econ 101: The more money made available to students for college, the more cavalier these institutions feel about raising prices. In an interview, Thomas Sowell claimed that for every dollar made available via student loans, tuition costs rise by about 50 cents. I'm fairly sure that figure is correct, but in any case it was very high, at least 30 cents, I believe. (BTW, I believe this is a form of corruption in that the universities, as reliable propagandists/supporters of Big Government, are in turn rewarded by Big Government in the form of student loans, grants and other gifts of hard-earned money extracted from the taxpayer.)

But I'm sure this is just the tip of a gigantic iceberg of waste. There's no good reason why "higher education" costs have galloped so far ahead of inflation the last few decades.

Maybe not "good" reasons in an absolute sense, but often reasonable or predictable responses to incentives and pressures. Your item (2), for instance, is definitely operative. I could go on about this for a long time. My perspective is from a small private school, which is a very different situation from a big public university. We don't have any money at all to waste, so we aren't just inventing cushy jobs, yet we are required to do things that require hiring people in administrative functions that didn't exist 40 years ago.

We don't have any money at all to waste, so we aren't just inventing cushy jobs, yet we are required to do things that require hiring people in administrative functions that didn't exist 40 years ago.

I have no trouble believing it.

We don't have any money at all to waste, so we aren't just inventing cushy jobs, yet we are required to do things that require hiring people in administrative functions that didn't exist 40 years ago.

My husband's smallish private university just hired a lawyer whose full-time job is to ensure the university's compliance with government regulations.

There are also certain educational functions that are now handled by people with administrative titles. For instance, a lot of remedial writing and math instruction is done by a "learning center" or "student support service" rather than by faculty. Plus, the need for remediation is much greater than 40 years ago--but that's a different conversation.

Yep, we have similar things. We don't have a full-time person specifically devoted to government compliance, but it's something that requires attention. Lawsuit prophylaxis is also important.

And there's a whole world of stuff that's done to attract and keep students in a very competitive environment. Those require administration, and are often expensive in themselves, and are part of the tuition rise.

Mac, what percentage of the tuition increase is due to bloated admin and what percentage is due to technology?

I couldn't say. I can only tell you that it all adds up. I'm sure that would vary widely from one school to another. I'm pretty sure that our technology outlays in constant dollars have at the very least doubled in the past 10 years or so, probably way more than doubled. I would guess it's increased 4 or 5x over the past 20 years. And in a cash-strapped private school like mine, there is little or no real "bloat" in the sense of positions that don't have any real function. That may not be true at big public institutions.

Mac, what percentage of the tuition increase is due to bloated admin and what percentage is due to technology?

One institution where I worked saw a 28% increase in staff over a period of about 15 years. Of the additional 200 in headcount, about 15 were IT technicians.

"My perspective is from a small private school, which is a very different situation from a big public university."

Oops. Just checked with Miss Manners and she assured me it's boorish to suggest your internet host is participating in creating "a gigantic iceberg of waste." My apologies, Mac. But I was speaking of a general trend, not all colleges, and I'd bet a small private school is likely one of your best values in terms of education per dollar spent.

My general sense is that the rising costs are caused primarily by government regulations (and other interventions), "lawsuit prophylaxis" and "mission creep" by some universities into bogus fields and/or activities that have little to do with education (it never occurred to me that technology costs were a significant problem, so I've already learned something here).

Mac, at some point in the future when you're able and so inclined, I'd be interested in getting your perspective on what exactly is happening that generates such high costs--in general, not necessarily specific to your school.

No apology necessary, no offense taken. It is a real phenomenon, and a real problem.

I'm limited in what I'll say here because I don't think I should discuss my employer in any detail. Also at the moment I'm chasing grandchildren around and can't really collect my thoughts.

But just briefly: there are more schools than there are students to fill them, and if you make it "qualified student", even fewer. There is a lot of competition for students. So a part of the explanation is the same thing you find in any other business, a need to remain competitive. Technology is an example. Big and/or rich schools adopt some technology such as wireless internet as part of their effort to differentiate themselves. The rest of us then are obliged to follow along, as last year's cool extra becomes this year's standard feature, something you have to provide to stay in business at all, not to get ahead. And you can't directly charge for it, but the cost goes into tuition increases. You could make a lot of comparisons with the auto industry: keyless entry, power windows, etc etc. Educators don't like to think of their enterprise that way, but it's applicable.

I suspect it is a concatenation of smaller things.

1. Dog chasing its tail public subsidies.

2. Cost disease of personal services

3. Escalating expectations of service.

4. Academic labor market rigidity.

5. Padding due to credentialing conventions.

6. Overbuilding driven by dysfunctional institutional governance (see Thomas Sowell on this point) and misplaced philanthropy.

7. Compliance costs.

8. Parkinson's law. One place I worked had 4 or 5 vps in 1995 and 10 a dozen years later. The publishing maven Arthur Henderson offered that the most salient thing about higher education was the manifestation of the pecuniary interests of administrators as a class: the administration is the 800 lb gorilla who sits wherever he wants to.


Of course, inelastic demand conjoined to easy credit is driving all of this. We need much more effective secondary education and a more ready way to liquidate insolvent philanthropies and public trusts.

last year's cool extra becomes this year's standard feature

That reminded me of this: 640,000 LA Students Will Get Free iPads by 2014

Maclin, you are really reminding me of why I am so glad that I have a new job. I never, ever, ever have to think about that stuff again.


I hope that "never, ever, ever" is not premature.

Art's list is pretty good, I'm not entirely sure what a couple of them mean. One important factor that's at least implicit in a couple of those points is that the current system is heavily dependent on government subsidies, even for private schools, in the form of financial aid. When I left industry for academia over 20 years ago, I took a look around the higher ed scene and concluded that if it were subject to the same pressures as other industries there would be a massive shakeout, with a lot of struggling schools going under. It hasn't happened, because, with plentiful government (not only federal) aid available, schools had help bridging the gap between what it costs to run them and what families could afford to pay.

There are frequent predictions that the demand will not remain inelastic, and if that happens there will be trouble. But so far it hasn't.

Marianne's comment was trapped in the spam filter for several hours.

There was a similar program here a year or two ago where hundreds, maybe a thousand or more, students were given laptops. What they did with them, who know?

In general technology in education is vastly overrated. Though it has put into the hands of students some useful tools unknown to my generation. For instance, I learned recently that if you select all the periods in a document and change them to a font which takes up more space, the expansion can sometimes gain you another page toward meeting the minimum without your having to write more.

Well, maybe I'll have to do that in Purgatory, but I'll do everything possible to avoid doing it here--AND there.


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