Saturday, June 14, 2014

Government Regulations Killing Education?

By Professor Doom

Higher education is expensive, far too expensive for many people to afford. The big reason I advance is higher education is ruled by a ruthless, plundering class of highly paid administrators, eager to suck up every dollar; this is facilitated by the student loan and grant scheme, providing vast sums regardless of the quality or legitimacy of education.

This being my blog, I’ve naturally presented primarily my side. The administration’s side of education, justifying a vast legion of administrators is as follows: we now need vast numbers of incredibly highly paid and gifted administrators, due to there being so many complicated regulations and such.

A recent administrator was allowed to present this case on Inside Higher Ed. The titan of industry speaking is Arthur Kirk. He makes nigh $650,000 a year ruling St. Leo University—a non-profit Florida university with around 10,000 students, a great number of which (a majority in 2012) are military. Each student pays about $65 a year just to cover this guy’s salary—a couple generations ago, that was the total fee for tuition, and now it just pays for the guy at the top, a guy that has no influence whatsoever on any student’s education. If this guy vanished, not one student’s education would be impacted in the slightest.

     $650,000 a year is a vast sum, comparable to a skilled NFL football player. Now, a NFL player is the best player in his neighborhood, the best at primary school, the best in his high school, and probably the best at his college. The best of the best of the best of the best. When a pro NFL player goes to tackle a typical person, he does so with grace and efficiency.

    For $650,000 a year, this guy must be an awesome writer, the students are certainly paying dearly for such skill.  Government is certainly part of the problem, so I’m eager to read how it could be the main issue.  He should be the best of the best of the best of the best in writing, and should tackle this softball thesis with grace and efficiency  

Let’s take a careful look at what he wants to say, what he actually says, and what reality says. He begins his little essay with a preamble about higher education in general:

“…I won’t argue that its return on investment makes it worthwhile, although it surely does…”

    Barely into the first paragraph, and the administrator spews this line. Higher education’s expense is surely worthwhile? It’s been well known for years now that for millions, a college education makes no sense at all, especially at the insane prices most institutions charge, and that’s not even factoring in the bogus degrees that many (especially for-profit) institutions peddle. That’s not a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s documented. It’s not good to start with a non-truth, it makes the reader suspicious of the author, but perhaps he’s just puffing a bit, like any huckster of wares. Perhaps he thinks highly of his snake-oil, I can hardly blame him for that, I suppose. A misstep like this is not grace and efficiency.

Let’s get on with the essay:

In recent years at Saint Leo University, we have added positions...In every one of these instances, we are generally responding directly or indirectly to federal regulatory mandates, legal trends, insurers’ expectations, accreditors’ requirements, and so on.

I’ve added boldface to identify the thesis: there’s too much government and other regulation. This is not a tough thesis, as it’s pretty obvious there’s too much government in everything. Let’s see how well a $650,000 a year Poo-Bah can write an essay backing up this softball claim. Someone paid this well should have no trouble nailing it to the floor.

Take internal audit. The federal Sarbanes-Oxley legislation was a reaction to the collapse of the energy-trading behemoth Enron Corporation in 2001 and to legitimate concerns about corporate accounting accuracy, integrity, and boards of directors fulfilling their governance-oversight responsibilities. However, it has driven significant changes in our nonprofit board’s concerns, oversight, and actions. The resulting increased financial oversight, internal audit, and risk management are all reasonable and responsible activities—and all require administrative staff and add substantial real costs.

This is some serious misdirection here. Yes, Enron is a problem, but in higher education, administrative abuse is massive. Why point the finger at Enron when I can trivially come up with half a dozen posts on administrative corruption (without even getting to Sandusky…)? 

Considering the rampant theft and plunder that seems to be an everyday part of administration, I think a bit of oversight makes sense, as less money stolen by administrators might mean some savings in tuition, right? Plug up the huge leaks, and more of the massive money pouring into education might actually go for education. Short of plugging leaks, we could always just hire people with integrity instead of mercenaries for these positions.

In short, these are crocodile tears, he’s upset that it’s harder to steal as much as before. 

With an essay, you generally start with your weakest argument, so I give him credit here, as “Administration has stolen so much in the past that now we have oversight, and that needs to be paid for, it’s not our fault it’s coming out of the student’s pocket” is a pretty weak argument for justifying $650,000 a year salaries. It’s obviously weak, it shouldn’t be his only argument, and it isn’t. That said, for such an easy thesis as “too much government,” he shouldn’t be scraping the bottom of the barrel. 

Administrators brought that oversight on themselves, punishing students makes no sense at all.

The essay continues:

Societal, institutional, parental, student, and insurance-company concerns about concussions and other injuries demanded more athletic trainers to evaluate, watch over, and treat collegiate athletes. Baseline concussion tests for all athletes every year before the season are prudent, but also add expense. Having athletic trainers attend to athletes before, during, and after every practice and game is a good thing, but it is costly. The NCAA also expects us to employ a person who does not coach, to ensure compliance with the many NCAA rules. That costs money, too.”

Wait, what?

It’s been well known for years that athletic programs (which have very little to do with the mission of institutions of higher education) are generally a drain on institutional finances. The Poo-Bah’s institution is not one of the tiny handful of institutions that turn a profit in athletics (and those few that do profit, funnel those profits back into athletics. It is impossible for institutions to have athletic programs and keep to their mission).

Rather than pay even more for those regulations he’s upset about, he could always just get rid of these programs, and pass on the savings to the students. Wouldn’t that make more sense than complaining about all the administrative support he needs to run these money-losers. I point out, the more administrators, the more money he makes, since he gets more people under him. 

His whimpering here makes no sense at all, since if he really cared about the students more than justifying his salary, he’d get rid of these programs.

So far, then, the $650,000 a year administrator’s essay has done a terrible job of convincing me that government regulations are the problem in higher education. Considering my Libertarian leanings, that’s a very impressive accomplishment on his part.

Next time I’ll look at the rest of his essay to see if he has some better arguments for his case.


  1. Wouldn't it be easier to stop pretending that students are getting an education and just charge a huge amount of money for some kind of privilege akin to nobility that would not require any education? People would just buy that privileged status that would entitle them to access to the middle or upper class. The government could just charge that money. Alternatively, universities could exist and if so, attendance would be required as part of the process of buying that exalted status but there would be no grading or serious education, although some kind of courses, book clubs or study clubs could exist for those who would be interested. People would just hang out with their privileged peers and some lucky former professors would continue to have some kind of job during the process of dismantling higher education.

    Because too many people already got degrees, the new special status would be very expensive, but also more prestigious since fewer people would be able to afford it. Of course, charging for some kind of courses or teaching services would not be illegal just as it is not illegal to hire a private piano teacher or a corporate trainer. It's just that education would be bought for its own sake or not at all instead of being what people have to suffer through if they want a degree. And of course, teachers would have to please their clients instead of "upholding standards", assigning grades and thinking they are in charge.

  2. There's actually something brilliant in that suggestion, but I just can't focus the idea.

    Of course, that's what we almost had with "college education", then came the loan scam. How would you propose not letting people just "get a loan" to advance into the middle class?

    1. By making the cost too high to lend to a student, yet not quite high enough to run many schools just to get that money from a small number of buyers and still make a profit. That being said, would a few loans even be a problem since so few people would buy and the resulting success in life would be guaranteed? Even if the price was 10 or 20 times higher, one loan could not possibly cause more problems than the loans of 10 or 20 students. Because the problem is systemic, not just a matter of a few loans.

    2. I have to scratch my head at that...the price is already too high for a loan, doesn't seem to stop anything at all.

    3. If, for example, ten students are now getting loans for 50K each and the privileged status would cost 500K, only one individual instead of ten would want a loan and that one would likely be unable to get it.