A New Theory of Rising College Costs
While no complex phenomenon has a single cause, one factor overlooked here is the creation of parallel societies that we expect from colleges and universities. These institutions now offer a series of duplicative services which are either more properly the domain of the State, or activities formerly entrusted to the students and to the professors themselves. Driven by what Ryan Boyd calls “A growing technocratic-neoliberal emphasis on data, measurement and surveillance,” college costs more and more because we always expect more.
The services I have in mind aren’t the things people associate with college the most – the courses and the professors who teach them. Indeed, the percentage of courses taught by full-time professors leading to tenure was on the decline for decades, with many courses taught by graduate students, full-time non-permanent workers on short-term contracts, or part-time faculty working for pittance with no benefits or job security. This change saves schools money, but tuition fees have not gone down as a result. The rising cost of higher education always exceeds inflation.
The Conservatives blame the explosion in loans, which creates a kind of moral hazard known as the Bennett Hypothesis. As former Secretary of Education William Bennett argued, “The more you subsidize something, the more you get.” In other words, colleges have responded to increases in federal aid by increasing tuition fees and spending them on new programs, real estate, and services.
This theory certainly has supporters who aren’t longtime Tory activists like Bennett, but that doesn’t take into account the rising costs at state colleges and universities, which rely less on loans in the first place. There, the liberals blame the withdrawal of state support for public education, which was once effectively free for state students. In some states, such as Pennsylvania and Alabama, funding has gone down by more than 30 percent just since 2008. Bennett’s hypothesis does not really explain why so many schools are mired in seemingly endless financial crises despite ostensibly swindling out unlimited federal largesse.
Administrators, who are often seen as settlers constantly seeking to expand their domain, are another popular explanation for the increase in university fees. The story is this: Directors hire other directors, who must find ways to justify their existence. They deputize for even more administrators in a process of self-reinforcement commonly known as “administrative bulking”.
This ubiquitous trend was skillfully satirized by the deceased University titles generator, who would spit out invented but quite plausible titles such as “assistant vice-rector for strategic stakeholder management”, and by the reliable hilarious account of associate deans on Twitter. While department heads are forced to beg, borrow, and steal for every full-time faculty position, administrators are made to participate without worrying about long-term costs.
Over time, these administrators took on areas of responsibility that once belonged to faculty – the hiring process, program development, student counseling and services, and more. In his jeremiah of 2011 against the university administrative state, The fall of the faculty, political scientist Benjamin Ginsburg wrote that they have become “instruments of administrative imperialism and academic destruction.” Deans, provosts, and presidents, once promoted from the faculty ranks and expected to return after a period of service, are now selected through nationwide searches administered by expensive headhunter firms that charge six figures and more to fill. only one post.
It’s an appealingly simple story, but it is, I think, unfair to the people who do this work. More importantly, the causation is almost entirely wrong. The truth is more complicated, relies less on a Manichean account of the administrators themselves, and instead points to administrative growth as responsive to consumer demand and regulatory requirements. The parallel society on campus exists because parents and regulators increasingly expect it, and meeting that expectation is an expensive proposition.
Part of those expectations are driven by a change in how we view 18 to 22 year olds. If you’re Gen X or older and live on campus, you probably remember college as a place where you instantly became a free adult with little to no supervision beyond dormitory RAs. , who were often in cahoots with your alcohol and guest trafficking.
This isn’t how things work anymore, and maybe for good reason: Recent research into neurodevelopment suggests that it would be a mistake to think that some kind of adulthood switch flips when you are 18 years old. Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt argues 18-year-olds are halfway through a process of brain development and maturation that begins with puberty. Even compared to people in their mid-twenties, these very young adults are more susceptible to peer pressure, are more likely to dive into risky situations, and have a harder time planning, organizing and controlling their lives. impulses, all elements of crucial importance for success. college and stay out of trouble. Parents know this and do not want to send their vulnerable children into anarchism Animal houses where no one will bother to keep an eye on them.
The recognition that college-aged students would not necessarily have to navigate their new world easily has resulted in a necessary but costly expansion of student support and services. In elite institutions like Harvard, which can afford to do whatever they want, that can be overkill. But in lesser-known institutions like mine, where students often work full-time outside of the classroom, support family members at home, and may not arrive on day one equipped with all the tools they want. will need to do well, these services are essential. They are also too expensive, so the tuition fees go up.
Now, just as primary and secondary schools are supposed to solve social problems whose causes are well upstream of education, colleges have had to occupy territory abandoned by the retreating state. This territory is often accompanied by additional requirements from regulators and well-intentioned edicts of the Ministry of Education, again resulting in higher costs for students and their families. Most colleges today operate their own justice systems to comply with federal regulations such as Title IX, and human resources departments have grown rapidly with changes in federal regulations regarding hiring practices. Meanwhile, US student loans are extremely complicated and expensive to operate, requiring investments in even more staff, software, and office space.
Miniature armies of staff members are hired to advise students on what course to take, another task that was once the exclusive domain of faculty members. (When I was an undergraduate student in the late 1990s, we mostly chose our own courses at random before occasionally turning to an academic advisor.) And as a college-aged population declined, the competition for each student has intensified, requiring exorbitant investments in recruitment, admissions, marketing and financial aid services. It’s valuable work, but the net effect is undeniable: the administrator-to-student ratio keeps increasing, as do tuition fees.
These trends are sensitive to social and regulatory pressures, as I said. But these pressures in turn stem from the failure of federal and state governments to provide the kind of robust social safety net that would in the first place eliminate the need for universities to employ their own mental health professionals, social workers. and security forces. Yes, especially in more remote schools, there is a convenience factor to having some of these services on campus. But, in a deeper sense, colleges have become parallel societies because the larger society in which they should be integrated is not what it should be.
Tuition hikes, student loans and endowments allow schools to offer these services on a small scale, an expensive stopgap that excludes most of the community and puts higher education – the foundation of liberal democratic society. – always more out of reach. Bickering over why the university is so expensive and pointing fingers at administrators will do nothing to address this underlying societal deficit.
Maybe the way to lower tuition fees is to strengthen society as a whole.