Martin Kich of Wright State University helps give us an inside view on why college gets more expensive even as their presidents make belt-tightening noises. “The truism that our colleges and universities need to be managed as businesses has lost whatever credibility it once might have had–largely because it has become very clear that academics are the only part of our institutions to which the truism is actually applied,” Kich writes on the academe blog maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). “It is not applied to the ballooning bloat in administrative compensation (though, arguably, the bloat in executive compensation has now become an entrenched part of the business practice) or to the ever-expanding number of administrative positions and of staff hired to serve the needs of those administrators.”
“It does not apply to the endless erection of new buildings. Nor does it apply to the urgency with which each new campus amenity must be provided—even though no studies exist to show that a new climbing wall has had any impact whatsoever on enrollment. Why would it, when every campus was rushing almost simultaneously to install one where some of the ping-pong tables used to be? The truism certainly is not applied to intercollegiate athletics, where no more than three or four dozen universities actually have programs that generate net revenue and a few dozen more are actually self-supporting. And, perhaps most ironically, it is not applied to the endless administrative pursuit of new ways to economize–a pursuit typically dependent on hiring an endless succession of extremely expensive external consultants.”
“All of these non-academic expenditures are typically characterized as ‘investments,’ whereas academic spending is typically characterized as a regrettable drain on resources.” That would also fit a trend in national politics among Democrats, many of who person the presidencies of colleges and universities. Nevertheless, it is difficult to find a university his analyses does not apply to, at least of the ones that receive government funding, and few don’t.