The student loan crisis deserves all the attention it has attracted — and more — especially if we’re serious about tackling this trillion-dollar tragedy in a comprehensive way. But let’s not make the mistake of focusing all our good efforts on outcomes without addressing causes as well.
I’m referring to colleges and universities so under the gun to cover their bloated cost structures without jacking up tuition and fees even further that it’s a wonder how they maintain minimum admission standards. It’s also remarkable that as enrollment declines, demand for financial aid increases and endowment funds shrink, the higher education sector isn’t confronting the institutional redundancies that are at the heart of this problem.
For example, in my home state alone, there are a half dozen medium-size private colleges and universities. To be sure, each has unique qualities and areas of specialty, which explains why they’re able to attract 5,000 to 7,000 students each.
However, these institutions also have their own administrative frameworks — from ordering supplies and processing payrolls to managing IT platforms capable of wirelessly streaming online courses and the latest movies. And, of course, there are the duplicative organizational hierarchies that incorporate a half dozen presidents, chief financial officers and provosts each, not to mention, copious numbers of deans and legions of faculty and administrative staff.
If this isn’t an example of an industry consolidation waiting to happen, I don’t know what is — except that there are two big obstacles standing in the way: the college presidents and the boards they’ve recruited.
Publicly held companies are accountable to their shareholders. To whom are the privately held educational nonprofits beholden? Perhaps it should be to those who write the checks: the students, their parents and the companies that offer tuition reimbursement to employee-learners.