Higher Ed’s Terminal Bloat

Kali Jerrard

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/8/23

It’s time for higher education to face reality. Economist Richard Vedder, in his article yesterday on Minding The Campus, highlights E. Gordon Gee, president of West Virginia University (WVU). Under Gee’s leadership, WVU gained greater recognition, especially given the size and economics of the state in which it resides. However, in recent news, Gee has (shockingly) decided that “it is time to downsize, to adjust to new realities of American (and, in his case, West Virginian) collegiate life.” Today, this is a controversial statement. Gee isn’t shying away from addressing the systemic issues in higher education, and he’s calling out all colleges and universities in the process. Vedder writes,  

Describing not only WVU but also much of American academia, Gee notes that colleges and universities have become overextended, too big and costly for a mission that is shrinking more than it is growing. Most American schools will have fewer students in five years. American population growth, which has persisted for over four centuries, may be ending. Institutions’ hubris, high costs, mediocre outcomes, and ideological fixations inconsistent with American values have lowered public support.

Higher education is blind (whether by ignorance or on purpose) to many of the struggles of everyday Americans. Colleges and universities continue to throw resources at administrators, new race and gender programs, and athletics without a care in the world about growing national debt, economic uncertainty, population shrinkage, and more. These alarming trends, with real implications, are going largely ignored. Higher education hasn’t prepared itself to deal with internal problems, much less external ones. The median college and university endowment is only $204 million (the average is $1.2 billion, but that’s heavily weighted in favor of the Harvards and Stanfords of academia). Many institutions are too big, and their student bodies are too small, to stay afloat in the years to come. 

Many schools act as if they have a “near-divine right” to operate in whatever manner they see fit, and in the process exacerbate and fuel systemic issues, making the institution more vulnerable to internal and external threats. A populist movement for de-credentialism couldn’t have come sooner.

What must be done to right the ship? Gee leads the way at WVU by “evaluating everything—from our operations to our academic programs to our services.” The first thing to go must be the legions of unnecessary, harmful administrators in all of the woke academic offices—e.g., diversity, “multicultural affairs,” etc. Terminal administrative bloat has placed many colleges’ and universities’ finances on life support (Neetu Arnold covers this in the report, Priced Out). No more unnecessary administrators or underqualified faculty—hire value-adding, tenure-track faculty instead. The diversity bureaucracy has to go.

There are also other ways to cut bloated budgets. To fix wasteful spending and improper resource allocation, Vedder suggests taking a hard look at faculty teaching loads, intercollegiate athletics, and inefficiencies in capital expenditures and human resources. This is by no means an exhaustive list, as restoring efficiency and implementing reform will vary by institution, but it’s a helpful benchmark.

President Gee should be commended for making these tough cuts at WVU, and many other schools will need to do the same to survive in the coming years. Enrollment is down across the board, and many institutions are already closing. College and university leadership must cast aside their hubris, open their eyes to internal and external problems, and work to restore institutional excellence, integrity, and resources, before it’s too late.

Until next week.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by the NAS Staff. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Photo by Morgan Rauscher on Adobe Stock

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