Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

College Debt

Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

January 30, 2012
Cartoon: John Fewings
Nothing I’d heard about the spiraling cost of higher education (127% from 1980 to 2000) made sense until a friend, whose daughter is in journalism school, told me she was studying statistics at American colleges and universities and found an enormous increase in administrative jobs with salaries much higher than those of faculty, whose numbers are declining—including the small, private liberal arts college where I used to teach (administrative salaries over $100,000, faculty salaries considerably less). Then today, when I was catching up on old New Yorkers—print version, in the bathtub, the biggest downside of digital readers being that they’re not yet waterproof—I found this letter to the editor (December 19 & 26, 2011):

James Surowiecki, in his commentary on student-loan debt, does not identify an important source of growth in college costs (The Financial Page, November 21st). Coincident with only a modest increase in enrollment in the past decade is the meteoric rise of a professional university administrative class. One study found that between 1993 and 2007, while enrollment at universities increased by fifteen per cent, the number of administrators per hundred students grew by thirty-nine per cent. This vast layer of university administrators has changed the composition and culture of the American university. Increasingly, they are private-sector outsiders who are more willing to undermine the missions of research and teaching in order to preserve the bottom line. A notably egregious case is the recent shuttering of the theatre department and several language programs at cash-strapped SUNY Albany under the leadership of its president, George Philip, a former investment-fund manager. Bubble or no, universities are building an expensive management structure around an academic core that’s becoming more and more hollow. Any effort to reduce college costs must restore leaner administrations, representative of the faculty and staff who carry out the institutions mission.

Ryan Walker
Lexington, Ky.

Walker’s source is no doubt the Aol News/HuffPost article, by Matthew Ladner of the Goldwater Institute, which provided this graphic:

This article about Obama’s plan to control college debt states that student debt now exceeds credit card debt. Very little I’ve read, however, mentions administrative “bloat” as a contributing factor. Student debt reduces the opportunities for entrepreneurship and hobbles the economy, while the narrowing of college choices makes for stunted cultural, scientific and intellectual growth. How this can be controlled, I have no idea, but it’s time we got on it.