The Daily Chart: The College Cost Scandal

The Wall Street Journal is up online this morning with a blockbuster feature on the soaring spending by colleges and universities—especially public flagship campuses. The money quote of the story is from Holden Thorp, who was chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2008 to 2013: “These places are just devouring money.”

Sounds just like Democrats in Washington! Actually, since our major universities are almost uniformly Democrat-run institutions, we shouldn’t be surprised.

I assume the piece will appear in print in tomorrow’s edition, but let’s get an early jump. Let’s start with Mark Perry’s general chart on inflationary trends of the last 20 years, which shows college tuition has risen twice the rate of inflation.

Only the cost of health care has risen more, and what do health care and higher education have in common? Extensive government subsidies and cost-shifting.

Here’s just a sample of the WSJ article:

The nation’s best-known public universities have been on an unfettered spending spree. Over the past two decades, they erected new skylines comprising snazzy academic buildings and dorms. They poured money into big-time sports programs and hired layers of administrators.

Then they passed the bill along to students.

The University of Kentucky upgraded its campus to the tune of $805,000 a day for more than a decade. . .  Pennsylvania State University spent so much money that it now has a budget crisis—even though it’s among the most expensive public universities in the U.S.

And guess where most of the money went? You really don’t need to guess:

Much of the increase in outlays showed up in the hiring process, for administrators, faculty, coaches and finance experts, the Journal’s analysis found. Salaries and benefits, which usually eat up more than half of operating budgets, rose by roughly 40% at the median flagship since 2002. . .

The University of Florida in 2022 had more than 50 employees with titles of director, associate director or assistant director of communications, roughly double the number it had in 2017. The school also employed more than 160 assistant, associate, executive and other types of deans last year, up from about 130 in 2017.

Public universities like to bemoan cuts in public funding from state legislatures, but as the Journal found, increases in tuition were far above the level of cuts in public funding:

One thing I like to point out to liberals on campuses is that in fact over the long term public funding hasn’t declined at all, but that when there is a recession or other state budget problems, they are cut first because they are at the back of the line behind welfare programs that they otherwise support, as this chart (not part of the WSJ story) shows:

Bottom line: The leadership of most American universities ought to be summarily fired for their grotesque mis-management and ill-service to a generation of students. This ought to be a major scandal. No wonder the left is lobbying to forgive student loans. I say make universities pay them back.

Exit question: Why was Purdue University able to freeze its tuition for more than a decade while everyone else was raising tuition by 5 to 10% a year?? Because they hired Mitch Daniels as president. Why don’t other universities seek out leaders like Mitch Daniels? Because he and people like him are in the wrong political party.

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