The West Virginia House voted today to advance a bill allowing colleges and universities more discretion in handling personnel decisions. With the student loan debt crisis looming, addressing higher education costs is critical — more states should follow suit.
Department of Education data shows administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009. This is more than 10 times the rate of growth for tenured faculty. Has additional personnel helped improve graduation rates? Not significantly. Between 2002 and 2014 the average number of students graduating within six years only rose by three percent.
College is no longer affordable for the middle class, and millennials that are able to graduate have on average nearly $40,000 in debt. When universities are paying $32,000 to have Snooki from Jersey Shore speak on campus, as Rutgers did in 2011, maybe this isn’t such a surprise. Stupid decisions like this notwithstanding, institutions of higher education are raking in the cash from virtually unlimited amounts of government-backed loans.
The federal Parent PLUS loan has no monetary limit, though it is capped at the total cost of attendance. This attendance cost has risen dramatically, in part due to the increase in administrative positions, and then the price tag is automatically covered by a government-backed loan. Now we find ourselves in an unnecessary and counterproductive death spiral, or as Prager University and Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA aptly name the phenomena, the Game of Loans.
Economist, professor and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Richard Vedder, put it best: “They’ll say, ‘We’re making moves to cut costs,’ and mention something about energy-efficient lightbulbs, and ignore the new assistant to the assistant to the associate vice provost they just hired.”
President Trump has promised to enact sweeping reforms for many higher education issues. Thankfully, his proposals specifically point to reducing tuition costs by ridding expansive administrative costs. However, much of this power can reside at the state level. As the GOP now controls 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers, there has never been a better time for reform. In a beautiful display of Tenth Amendment power, West Virginia is tackling administrative bloat via state legislation.