Higher education is about to suffer a profound economic shock. Even a large government bailout isn’t likely to make up the shortfall entirely. Americans should expect higher education’s slow-motion crisis to accelerate dramatically—and a decade’s worth of bankruptcies will be telescoped into the next two years.
Our colleges are about to turn to America’s donor class for an emergency infusion of funds.
More precisely, when higher education administrators ask for emergency support, donors should expect that they will ask for money to keep on doing what they have always been doing—supporting vast numbers of unnecessary administrators, paying for “co-curricular activities” that blend propaganda, social justice activism, and community-building, and subsidizing the tuition of unqualified students. They will ask for money to support the development staff that sends out requests for money. They won’t earmark financial support for professors and classroom instruction, and they won’t cut costs if they can help it. Cutting fat in higher education means getting rid of the very administrators who are asking for money, and, understandably, they’re not eager to make that offer.
Higher education will need emergency support. But America’s philanthropists should condition their aid on proven actions by America’s colleges and universities to cut unnecessary costs—above all, unnecessary administrators.
After all, America’s donors are also about to be hard hit by the coronavirus’ effects on the economy. They will have less money to give, and should give prudently.
America’s donors need a central organization, sponsored by an organization such as The Philanthropy Roundtable or The Jack Miller Center, to do the due diligence to assure donors that a college has cut costs properly, and will spend its donor money wisely. Such a coordinating organization would formulate a checklist of cost-cutting measures that a college should undertake, receive information from each college that confirms it has undertaken those measures, and publicize that information to all donors. This reform would mean that donors would have one easy, centrally located information repository, which would allow them to judge quickly whether a college merits their support. It would also allow donors to act together, quietly but firmly, to ensure that higher education administrators do not put off the necessary reduction in the number of higher education administrators.
America’s philanthropists should support higher education in its hour of need. They will be more likely to do so if they know that their scarce dollars will be well spent.
David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars.