The Ivory Debtors' Prison

Neetu Arnold

Editor's Note: This article was originally published by RealClearEducation on October 9, 2019, and is republished with permission.


The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor employed 76 diversity officers in 2018—39 more than they had in 2008. The 76 officers, along with six more at other University of Michigan campuses, received $10.6 million in salaries and benefits. The University of Michigan is now typical of colleges nationwide in its burgeoning diversity payroll. It’s bad enough that our universities spend billions of dollars each year on diversity bureaucrats alone, when all they’re paid to do is propagandize students. It’s worse that our colleges spend American families’ money to subsidize their political correctness—and spend profligately.

Hartford, Maine, and Michigan acted like their peers nationwide. The number of college administrators grew by 15% between 2007 and 2014, through the worst years of the Great Recession. Universities used American families’ hard-earned dollars to expand their bureaucracies. Universities like the Illinois public university system increased the number of administrators over a 10-year period even as their student enrollment declined by 5,000.

The real growth isn’t in the registrar’s office or tech support. The booming offices include student life, diversity, and sustainability. Many of these administrators think their real job is to turn students into radical community activists.

The federal government’s grant and loan programs have subsidized higher education for more than fifty years. But federal grants and loans mostly work to increase student debt. Students borrow to pay the costs when the college ratchets up tuition to pay for yet another salaried administrator, but colleges aren’t held liable if a student doesn’t receive a degree.

State funding for higher education has increased in recent years, but that just shifts how American families pay for college. Calling the payments “taxes” instead of tuition doesn’t lower the bill. American families have reached their breaking point.

Student debt forgiveness plans like Bernie Sanders’s won’t help either. They’ll just require taxpayers to foot the bill.

We can’t fix higher education unless we fix the problem of student debt. We can’t fix student debt until we stop the bloat in higher education administration.

All those student life officers and sustainability deans add up. They’re a luxury America can no longer afford.

Neetu Arnold is a Research Associate at the National Association of Scholars.

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