More critical thinking, less proselytizing in higher education

From Kansas Policy Institute.

More critical thinking, less proselytizing in higher education
By Dave Trabert

Recent commentaries by a local lobbyist in The Wichita Eagle and two university chancellors in The Wall Street Journal attempted to justify increased taxpayer support of higher education by saying it results in greater economic prosperity.  There is no connection, however, between their premise and their conclusion.  Better education does lead to better economic prosperity but that is about the importance of getting an education.  What taxpayers are expected to spend to support education is a completely different matter.

In their haste to rationalize more spending to offset the rising cost of education, the authors conveniently made no effort to address the underlying problem – rapid cost increases. The quality of one’s education is not enhanced by operating schools inefficiently or having bloated administrations.  As is often the case with government entities, universities have a spending problem…not a revenue problem.

Dr. Richard Vedder, who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity at Ohio University, contends that increased subsidies actually fuel cost increases at universities.   He recently said, “It gives every incentive and every opportunity for colleges to raise their fees.”  Dr. Vedder pulls no punches.  In that same interview, he said, “”Every college today practically has a secretary of state, a vice provost for international studies, a zillion public relations specialists.  My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally. . . . Why? What’s bad about tomatoes from Pennsylvania as opposed to Ohio?”

Undergraduate tuition and fees at the six state-funded universities in Kansas increased by 137 percent between 2003 and 2012; that’s more than five times the inflation rate of 25 percent.  Administrative spending (called “Institutional Support” on their financial statements) jumped 79 percent.  The 2012 payroll list for the University of Kansas includes one Chancellor, two Executive Vice Chancellors/Provosts, two Vice Chancellors, one Assistant Vice Chancellor, four Associate Vice Chancellors, one Senior Vice Provost, six Vice Provosts, six Assistant Vice Provosts, three Associate Vice Provosts and a lengthy list of Executive Directors, Directors and other top management positions.

Universities didn’t even spend all of the tuition money they collected.  As we explained in “A Historical Perspective of State Aid, Tuition and Spending for State Universities in Kansas,”$96 million of tuition increases was used to increase cash reserves over those ten years.  Tuition didn’t need to skyrocket over the last decade; it’s just what universities decided to do.

Citizens know that those who work in government and represent organizations that benefit from government spending want more money from taxpayers.  We get it.  Taxpayers are supportive of education funding and they deserve better than disingenuous attempts to convince them to convert to the government way of thinking.