By the Blouin News Technology staff

The mystery of tuition

by in Personal Tech.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author of this blog are hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of Blouin News or Louise Blouin Media.

As a tuition-paying parent and a professor, I decided to engage in a bit of research to try to understand exactly why the tuition I am paying is so very high.

What is wrong with college and universities? The degradation of teaching as professors are replaced by exhausted and underpaid adjuncts is one problem. The focus of research on tech transfer and immediate market results is another negative force.

But this does not explain why college is expensive. Adjuncts are cheaper than tenured professors. Technology transfer should increase the bottom line. Professor-to-student ratios have remained stable. Professors’ salaries have not exploded, but rather become split between the tenure-track and adjunct.

Where does the money go? What has changed? Administrator-to-student ratios have changed. Administrators have increased 600%. Specifically,

The number of employees in central system offices has increased six-fold since 1987, and the number of administrators in them by a factor of more than 34.

Try to name, with full names, thirty four people who work in your office. Imagine one person being replaced by 34, about one-and-a-third new full time positions created every year for that one person.

Recently a friend, a world renowned philosopher, was given a list of action verbs. The committee that decided to give Schoolhouse Rocks level of advice on how to use words to the Philosophy department was no doubt a successful, committed group. That committee, the support, the coffee, their offices, and their salaries have to be paid for by someone. That such a memo was released shows that the creation of an action verb list was a tremendous bureaucratic success. Perhaps they will need to add another person to support the Task Force as it moves to Standing Committee.

Those administrators do not come cheap. The salaries of University Presidents do have a correlation with student debt. Of course, correlation is not causation. The fact remains that both are increasing.

The end result is that fewer dollars are spent on the people who interact with the students. There should be more investment, lower student loan debt, and better classroom dialogue. This requires limits on administrative costs, as well as putting professors with academic freedom in the classroom. There can be few bold intellectual challenges from a professor who has no security and fears the loss of employment from one complaining student. Or from a dishonest colleague. Not that administrators always respect that tenure.

I am an avid supported of student debt relief. Sadly, I do not wonder where all those funds will go if there continue to be no constraints on administrative bloat and expansion. Universities need an 80/20 rule focusing on research, classroom instruction, mentoring, and all the ways that faculty interact with students. We do not need an explosion of personal assistants to the new Associates to the Assistant to the Associate Dean of Administration.