Part 3: Reduce the Cost of a Degree by 40% by Reducing Labor and Capital Costs.
[Explanatory lead to the first post in this series: Richard Vedder is distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, and an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. In an earlier post, I pointed out, as others have, that he is hardly an unbiased or objective commentator on the state of higher education because his connection to the conservative American Enterprise Institute has come with a $150,000 annual stipend.
Nonetheless, as the author of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much, he was asked by CNN to comment on President Obama’s recent proposals on higher education [The article is available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/23/opinion/vedder-college-costs]. Vedder took the opportunity to restate four of his own recommendations for making higher education more affordable.]
First of all, this is the second instance in this relatively brief article in which Richard Vedder is proposing to cut the cost of a baccalaureate degree by 40%. So, I am not sure whether he is arguing that his suggestions will together reduce the cost by 80%, or he is indicating that either of the proposed changes will produce such savings but simply not explaining that there is some level of revenue below which our institutions are economically unsustainable. If the latter is the case, then the two proposals should be more clearly presented as an either-or proposition since the changes are too radical to justify enacting them simply for the sake of enacting them.
Beyond this major ambiguity, this section of Vedder’s article is the least focused of the four.
He begins by emphasizing that over the past forty years, the number of non-instructional personnel at universities has doubled, and he proposes that the number of administrators and administrative staff be reduced to 1970 levels.
Although Vedder is absolutely right in asserting that administrative costs have been a major driver in the escalating cost of a degree, this sort of proposal is ridiculous simply because it has absolutely no chance of being adopted anywhere.
In fact, the only thing that the proposal really does is provide cover for further arguments that faculty workloads are unnecessarily light and need to be increased. And those arguments are much more likely to resonate with Far Right legislators, who generally see little downside to escalating executive compensation and widening income inequality, and with university administrators, who increasingly measure their reach by the bureaucracies that they are able to create, rather than by the number and achievements of the faculty whom their institutions employ and by the number and quality of the students whom they graduate. Continue reading