Time for Accountability in Higher Education

Universities and colleges in Iowa as well as across the nation are preparing to welcome back students for the fall semester. In recent years higher education has been plagued with numerous problems. A major concern is growing dominance of radical ideologies both in and out of the classroom. In addition, the cost is accelerating, and many students are finishing their degrees with tremendous amounts of debt. “In recent decades, higher education has been bloated with money from federally guaranteed student loans. At the same time, a generation of young people has been saddled with debt,” wrote R.R. Reno, editor of First Things.


Richard Vedder, noted economist and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, wrote, “over the past 40 years, the cost of college has roughly tripled.” This massive increase in the cost of higher education is having direct consequences, as Vedder explains:  "With added revenues gained from rising enrollments and higher fees, colleges have gone on an academic arms race. They have built fancier physical facilities, with atriums, climbing walls, and even “lazy rivers.” They have allowed spending on intercollegiate sports to soar, at an increasing cost to students. Above all, they have engaged in massive administrative bloat, hiring swarms of diversity coordinators, sustainability directors, assistant deans, etc., so now at many schools there are more bureaucrats than teaching faculty. Moreover, students spend little time on studies (on average, less than eighth-graders) and faculty teaching loads are embarrassingly low at many schools — resources are vastly underutilized. Much faculty research is of trivial importance and little read. Even the buildings are empty much of the time."


The rising increase in the level of bureaucracy is an issue that was recently addressed in Iowa by Randy Evans, Director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. Evans argues that “it is long past time for the Iowa Board of Regents to look for ways to streamline the administrative structure at these schools.”


“With the number of administrators in universities growing like weeds in a heat wave, the result has been students having to pay tuition that increases faster than inflation. For many, that means a crushing debt load by the time they graduate,” argues Evans.


To support his thinking, Evans points to some examples at the University of Iowa. Recently, it was announced that the University of Iowa’s Provost was leaving their position and transitioning to a new job as “special assistant” to the President of the University. Evans reports, the “special assistant” position is a new job and the occupant will still receive the same salary as the Provost of $439,000.


Another example from the University of Iowa was the resignation of the Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, who resigned after only being in the position for seven weeks. Evans explains that the individual was allowed to be reassigned to a different University department, while they looked for a new position. In addition, Evans notes that the salary remained the same at $224,000 and the University even agreed to “pay up to $7,500” for the individual to attend a professional development conference and finally, the school agreed to “waive repayment of a $25,000 relocation allowance” even though the agreement was to repay the allowance if the individual “left within one year.”


It is not just the University of Iowa with these over inflation issues. Evans points out Iowa State University not only has the President, but also Senior Vice President and Provost. In addition to these administrative positions, Iowa State also has “two other senior vice presidents, six vice presidents, nine assistant vice presidents and 11 associate vice presidents. You will find one assistant provost and two associate provosts in the administrative hierarchy.”


“The staff also includes 10 deans, 26 associate deans, 11 assistant deans, plus one senior adviser to the president, one assistant to the president for communications, and one associate chief information officer,” wrote Evans.


The question must be asked whether colleges and universities really need all these administrators and support staff? As the cost of higher education increases, so does the need for more transparency and accountability.


“The financial problems for Iowa’s state universities will not get better with $420,000-a-year special assistants to the president in Iowa City, or with assistant vice presidents for “specialty business services and cultural arts” in Ames, or with three associate vice presidents at Iowa State having finance in their job titles, plus a senior vice president for finance,” argues Evans.


Higher education seems to be plagued by the same growth of bureaucracy as the federal government. Randy Evans brings up a great argument that should not be controversial or partisan. It is time for higher education institutions to streamline and become more efficient.