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Bloat: The Government’s Fault?

Arthur Kirk.jpgArthur Kirk, the President of Saint Leo University (located in Saint Leo, Florida) has taken to the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education to point out the extensive burden placed on college costs by the federal government’s various obligations:

…In recent years at Saint Leo University, we have added positions in risk management, internal audit (two), legal compliance, financial-aid regulatory compliance, human resources, accounting, security and safety, athletic training, athletic compliance, and university-accreditation compliance. In every one of these instances, we are generally responding directly or indirectly to federal regulatory mandates, legal trends, insurers’ expectations, accreditors’ requirements, and so on…

Much, but certainly not all, of the much-maligned “administrative bloat” is driven by external forces, societal demands, and regulations from the federal government, the states, the NCAA, accreditors, and insurers. In addition to state and local laws, higher-education institutions are required to comply with federal laws too numerous to count. The website of the Higher Education Compliance Alliance lists many of them, but there are others.

A simple count does not reflect the complexities institutions face, as the Higher Education Act alone is 900 pages long. Higher education is regulated by every cabinet-level department and numerous subagencies. One small private college documented that 106 employees logged 7,200 hours completing federal compliance forms. Some regulations were promulgated to call us to account for why our tuition costs so much…

Regrettably President Kirk does not detail — as a good consultant would do — the proportional and the total number of people at his institution who are only in their jobs because of government requirements. If we knew just how many bureaucrats were in place at Saint Leo’s due to the government, and how many were there because Kirk believes that the are needed to serve students, his argument would have a great deal more force.

That said, higher education is, in fact, an area of the economy that is highly regulated, and Dartmouth certainly has its share of government-mandated staff members. But let’s put things in some perspective. Government regulation is accretive; every year statutes and regulations oblige schools to add people. As a result, one would expect that the number of staffers would increase each year. That’s not the case in Hanover. At the College, we are still fighting the enormous bloat that occurred in the first years of Jim Wright’s mismanaged administration. Between 1999 and 2005, Wright added 934 non-faculty employees to the College’s staff, an increase of 38.8% during a period when undergrad enrollments and faculty numbers hardly changed. Few of these people were hired to fulfill government requirements:

Factbook Staff 1999-2011a.jpg

As you can see, the numbers tapered off for a while at the start of the Kim administration (in part because 75-80 employees of the Hanover Inn shifted to the private sector), but they soon resumed their relentless rise. In the last Kim budget, the College added 153 employees, and during Carol Folt’s year as IP, another 115 people joined the payroll. Today’s non-faculty headcount is the highest that it has ever been: 3,443 non-faculty employees. Did the 268 people hired in the last two years come to Hanover due to government mandates? I’d sure like the administration to explain what they are doing all day.

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