Few of the donors pouring additional funds into higher education today pay attention to a very problematic fact: Campus resources are often gravely underutilized or misallocated.
To begin, the faculty at U.S. universities have light workloads—especially compared to other Americans, but also versus previous generations of academics.
Why the reduction? Supposedly because the professors are doing more “research.” Yet much university research is now published in obscure journals or books that hardly anybody reads or cites.
Workloads have fallen sharply for students as well. Researchers Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks have shown that in 1960 the typical student spent about 40 hours per week in class, studying, writing papers, or completing other work. Today that total has fallen to around 27 hours.
Another egregious problem on campuses is administrative bloat. There has been an explosion in non-teaching staff: diversity promoters, counselors, people to run environmental initiatives, social-activity coordinators, media handlers, marketing staff.
Buildings are another source of waste. The use of a typical academic building is far lower than a comparable commercially owned facility.
Yet recent years have brought a soaring “edifice complex” on many campuses. New buildings are everywhere. And they are often given elaborate atriums, large public areas, expensive media rooms, and other elements that do little to advance learning or research. Many universities are notoriously bad about maintaining these facilities once constructed.
This is part of a wider arms race in accoutrements that now permeates academia. Lush gyms, fancy food, foreign travel, cushy dorms—these are becoming norms.
Donors steer vast sums annually to colleges and universities—$47 billion in 2018. That total is five times higher than the level of 30 years ago. Yet college administrators are rarely asked to account for their spending, or even asked questions about today’s serious underutilization of resources.
Read the full article about underproducing colleges by Richard Vedder at The Philanthropy Roundtable.
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