What have colleges been spending all of that extra money on? Between 2001 and 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal, the number of college and university administrators grew 50 percent faster than the number of instructors. Presidents of public research universities earned a median income of $441,392 in 2012.
Facilities at many colleges have become country-club lavish, with hot tubs, climbing walls, lazy rivers, movie theaters, sushi bars and single rooms with attached bathrooms. Universities across the country have been on a building spree. Dubbed the “edifice complex” by Richard K. Vedder, who studies college spending, much of it has been financed by debt.
Though both Republicans and Democrats have participated in the political pandering that created the higher-education bubble, Democrats have less room to maneuver in seeking reform. As with K-12 education, the universities that profit from current arrangements are the Democratic Party’s constituents. President Barack Obama’s approach has been to forgive outright the debt of students who work for the government, thereby increasing the burden on taxpayers (most of whom did not attend college).
The sky-high cost of college is a worry for many middle-class families. (Have you seen the financial advisers’ ads targeting parents of newborns?) Republicans are likely to have the reform field to themselves for a while.
Mitch Daniels, who taught the Republican Party valuable lessons in management as a successful and highly popular two-term governor of Indiana, is now doing the same for academia as president of Purdue University.
For the third year in a row, Purdue has frozen tuition rates. President Daniels (I know, it has a nice ring to it, but let that go) explained how he did it. As USA Today explained, “There was no secret sauce, just a little sensible pruning that would be ordinary in the business world but seems alien in much of academia, where a steady flow of federal aid guarantees a steady flow of students at seemingly any price.” Purdue consolidated some of its administrative positions. It chose a higher-deductible health care plan. It cut food service costs by switching providers and hiring part-time students to do work formerly performed by full-time employees. It short, it acted as if cared about consumer, i.e., student satisfaction.