Bloat on Campus

A new report on American colleges and universities reveals a problem with bloat:

Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent.

The problem, says author Jay P. Greene, is the third-party payment system, in which governments pay a substantial portion of the costs of running universities. Of course, in K-12 education, governments pay all the costs of operation. While many parents of K-12 students do pay  taxes (along with everyone else), even they don’t pay fees directly to the school, aside from incidentals such as lab fees or fees for participating on sports teams.

For many reasons, some of them good, we don’t expect poor families to pay for the costs of educating their children. That’s why we have government-run public school systems. But at least a voucher system or its equivalent would make those parents (and in fact, all parents) acutely aware of the costs of schooling. That, in turn, would provide some market discipline on the costs of schools. After all, which is more powerful: 1,000 parents who are watching the dollars and cents spent for their children’s education, or 100 members of a legislature?

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