Tuition is rising because colleges are shoveling money to programs like water polo

Published: Monday, Jan. 14 2013 10:10 a.m. MST

Another cost-driving distraction, Greene said, is the ever-richer on-campus experience. And, of course, students love it. He cites as an example service staff that help run the Greek fraternity and sorority system. Sure enough, ASU’s website lists three full-time staff overseeing Greeks, including two “coordinators” and one “associate director.”

Holistic experiences

“There is evidence to suggest that these sorts of co-curricular activities and holistic experiences are part of education,” said Carl Moses, provost at Susquehanna College in Pennsylvania. Moses acknowledges that not all higher education fits this model, with off-campus commuter state schools and for-profit universities focusing strictly on the classroom.

“We are focused on the preparation of students for their lives after college,” Moses said. Susquehanna University tries to demonstrate how a student’s experiences contribute to success in graduate school or jobs after graduation, but Moses acknowledges this is not easy.

“One of the things we struggle with all the time is trying to assess goals that are difficult to quantify.” Moses points back to the 19th century university model, which viewed liberal education as an end in itself. “That was probably OK to say in the 19th century,” Moses said, at a time when most college students were elites who enjoyed leisure and security. “But in the 21st century, we can’t look on higher education that way.”

With education becoming more expensive and with increasingly diverse student bodies, Moses acknowledges that along with student debt burdens rising, bang for buck becomes paramount.

“Those are good questions, and higher education as a sector should be welcoming those questions.” Moses hopes the current gap in the link between investment and payoff in higher education is just a learning curve. “We haven’t developed the muscles yet.”

Other causes

Moses sees the dispute over the core purpose of higher education as “related but separable” from the question of administrative bloat.

A host of modern burdens account for heightened administrative costs, Moses said, including information technology, regulatory burdens and research demands on faculty all making the old model of small staff untenable.

It’s hard to find a government agency that does not on some level impose burdens on a university, Moses said, and responding to this requires ever-larger staff.

Likewise, Ginsberg’s hope of restoring key governance and student-mentoring functions to faculty is questionable, he said. “Back then it was not at all uncommon for a faculty member to coach the tennis team,” Moses said.

Moses also points to the increasing diversity of the student body as another reason for larger support staff, many with distinctive challenges or needs, including students who are underprepared academically or who have emotional or physical challenges. “This is certainly another expectation of society that colleges expand access and opportunity. That’s all to the good, but it creates challenges.”

Looking back to the 1950s, Moses said, “I find it very difficult to understand how institutions could function in the modern environment with the same organizational structures.”

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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