Addressing College Debt- Part 3- The Bureaucratic Solutions

This article will focus on the bloated bureaucracy of higher education.  From 1976 to 2015, instructional faculty staff increased 149% nationally.  In that same time period, the non-instructional staff increased a whopping 290%.  Decreasing non-instructional staff is a must.  This can be done one of two ways.  We could and should reward colleges for cutting costs in this area up the point of using the stick by withholding research grants and federal aid if they do not meet certain goals.  Second, state funding should specify the amount of funds designated for instructional staff with that percentage being high enough to discourage increasing the non-instructional staff and bureaucracy.

At one time, college accreditation served a very useful purpose in that it was the primary means of information about a school.  If it was accredited by an agency, then the student could be somewhat sure that it met certain standards overall and with respect to certain degrees.  But in today’s technological age, this is no longer necessary.  To the extent that accreditation should remain, it must be based on an output, not an input rationale.  As it currently works, the accrediting agency looks at course content to determine if it meets certain predetermined (and often politicized) content.  If so, the program or college receives accreditation.  Nowhere in this formulation is output- student success- measured.  The equation is upside down, or half-ass backwards.  Gauging where graduates are three, five and ten years down the line after graduation from the school should be the primary means of measuring a school’s ability to prepare students for a career, not the contents of a syllabus or what textbooks are used.  This would also allow schools to be more innovative in curriculum development and content.

The process also creates a monopoly that keeps out new schools or programs from developing.  This is especially true of law schools where the American Bar Association is the accrediting agency.  They have used their political agenda to deny accreditation to law schools associated with some conservative colleges.  The federal government can play the role of de facto accrediting agency by withholding grants and financial aid if schools fail to meet predetermined out-put based goals.

There is a huge disapproval among liberals of “for-profit” higher education.  Yet, if we look at the best performing schools, they are private and they certainly turn a profit.  That is because they have to justify the higher tuition by producing an almost-guaranteed-employable graduate.  In that regard, states should consider privatizing some of their state colleges.  Historically, 40-60% of all college students were enrolled in private schools.  When that level decreased  directly corresponds to the increase in higher education inflation.  Instead of subsidizing colleges directly, perhaps vouchers given directly to students would break this cycle.

While states should maintain a state college system for the “public good,” partial privatization using the charter school example should be considered.  The decreased state expenditures could be diverted to student vouchers if need be.  Generally speaking, student outcomes and future gainful employment after graduation is greater among private school graduates.  Assuming the state maintains some broad control (since they are “granting the charter”), this is an area that can save states, students and parents money and decrease any debt.

College governance needs serious reform.  Too often, these are appointed positions that do one of two things: they either micromanage, or they rubber stamp everything.  There is no happy medium.  They are also usually political hacks.  A board of governors should consist of people from a wide range of backgrounds- academia, economics, and business to name three.

Another area in need of reform is credit transfer.  All too often, this blocks students from transferring from one college to another for a variety of reasons.  All too often it is because of a minor mismatch between requirements among the colleges.  The current criteria for transfer of credits between four-year college programs must be streamlined and liberalized.  The current system prevents students from making educational choices and “voting with their feet.”  Students can weaken the existing monopoly colleges have in this area which inflates cost.  Furthermore, successful passing of an AP, CLEP, or area placement exam should hold equal weight across colleges.

Not all college faculty are unionized, but where they are the costs associated are generally higher.  A national right-to-work statute should be passed if not broadly, then in the area of higher education (I prefer the former).

One area where there are exorbitant bureaucratic and administrative costs is in the area of affirmative action enforcement.  Simply, affirmative action in admissions, hiring and retention of faculty and the like must cease.  This writer is all for a diverse student body, but not at the price of lower academic output and the cost of these affirmative action program enforcement bureaucracies.  There is ample evidence to prove that these programs adversely  affect minority students.  In a related area, college speech codes need to stop.  These are often used to stifle debate in one area where vibrant debate should exist- college campuses.  Again, enforcement of these codes usually falls to the affirmative action bureaucracy.

Colleges generally use the 2-semester system.  The current system of a four-year program resulting in an actual 6-year degree increases college costs 25% above budgeted expectations. Providing a year round system of study should be a must.  This would help solve the problem of underutilized facilities.  Professors would actually have to teach more hours per year, but given their current pathetic workload in this area, it is not such a bad deal.  One could even financially reward teachers for doing this while guaranteeing a certain amount of vacation time each year.  And internships where actual real world work experience in an area of study should count as more credits towards a degree provided the student successfully “passes” the internship.  This again would speed up the process of obtaining a degree and decrease costs and student debt.

And finally, there is the biggest bureaucratic/administrative hurdle to overcome.  For anyone who has sought financial aid for their college-bound child, there is the dreaded FAFSA form to complete.  Although there have been attempts to make it easier, it has been proven that prospective students simply give up.  This is especially true of low income students- the exact population financial aid is supposed to benefit.  And here is the dirty little secret- all the information provided on the FAFSA is readily available from the IRS.  The FAFSA is a cumbersome, repetitive, redundant rite of passage for college bound students and their families that defeats its own purpose other than to bloat the number of employees at a college’s financial aid office.  Therefore, the FAFSA should be eliminated and information shared between the IRS and lenders and the colleges.