On The College Bubble—Update

Must-reading from the Wall Street Journal. Richard Vedder: “The Real Reason College Costs So Much. The expert on the economics of higher education explains how subsidies fuel rising prices and why there’s a ‘bubble’ in student loans and college enrollment.”

Some quotes and commentary follow (I’ve had a busy few days, so these will be telegraphic).

“The University of California system employs 2,358 administrative staff in just its president’s office.”

Is that all?

Quick: how many people are employed in the various “diversity” and “multicultural” programs at your college? Veder says, “My university has a sustainability coordinator whose main message, as far as I can tell, is to go out and tell people to buy food grown locally.” A sustainability coordinator!

Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare.

Anybody want to bet against this ratio increasing?

Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall…The dorm’s cost approached $300,000 per bed.

And don’t forget all those gorgeous gymnasiums and juice bars, places which now take up more real estate than libraries. Excuse me: learning centers, books rapidly becoming passé.

Since 2000, New York University has provided $90 million in loans, many of them zero-interest and forgivable, to administrators and faculty to buy houses and summer homes on Fire Island and the Hamptons.

Hey. These guys have to teach as many as two classes a year. Plus they need somewhere they can stay during summers and sabbaticals. Would you have administrators and professors camp in the street?

Meanwhile, grants have increased to $49 billion from $6.4 billion in 1981. By expanding eligibility and boosting the maximum Pell Grant by $500 to $5,350, the 2009 stimulus bill accelerated higher ed’s evolution into a middle-class entitlement. Fewer than 2% of Pell Grant recipients came from families making between $60,000 and $80,000 a year in 2007. Now roughly 18% do.

When you don’t know how much something costs you’ll pay anything. The cost of the thing will then inexorably increase. Two cases: health “insurance” and college tuition.

The government has created a negative feedback mechanism to ensure its own growth and survival. It subsidizes and encourages participation, all of which serve to increase costs, which produces calls for more subsidization and greater participation (in the interest of “fairness”). People come to think it is only Government which can save them. Especially when they think they don’t have to pay.

And did you hear? The government wants to tie federal aid to graduation rates. What could go wrong? The Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences, that’s what:

“I can tell you right now, having taught at universities forever, that universities will do everything they can to get students to graduate,” he chuckles. “If you think we have grade inflation now, you ought to think what will happen. If you breathe into a mirror and it fogs up, you’ll get an A.”

As we’ve noted before: there are too many kids going to college who shouldn’t be there and there are too many professors having to teach. Again, the problem is government money. It floods the system and taints everything it touches. You can’t let government pick (all) research to fund else it turns into “Research for everybody!”

The professoriate has been trained and turned into an machine which petitions government for money. Only part of the money they win is used for research and teaching. A great chunk of it goes to the administration to pay for special projects, all of which have turned universities into corporations. Which don’t have to pay tax.

Mr. Vedder says…government won’t do the innovating. “First of all, the Department of Education, to use K-12 as an example, has been littered with demonstration projects, innovation projects, proposals for new ways to do things for decades. And what has come out? Are American students learning any more today than a generation ago? Are they doing so at lower cost than a generation ago? No.”

Like all bubbles there is no fix, no solution. It has to pop, collapse of its own weight, and the structure rebuilt from what’s left standing.


The Troubling Dean-to-Professor Ratio

Purdue has a $313,000-a-year acting provost and six vice and associate vice provosts, including a $198,000-a-year chief diversity officer. Among its 16 deans and 11 vice presidents are a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief. The average full professor at the public university in West Lafayette, Ind., makes $125,000.


  1. Scotian

    “The government has created a negative feedback mechanism to ensure its own growth and survival.”

    I think that you mean a positive feedback mechanism. I am reading Charles Mackay’s “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”. Nothing changes, we are as mad as ever.

  2. VXXC

    “The Doctrine of Unexpected Consequences.”

    NO. Entirely expected consequences. Hence desired results.

    You’re paying the price of a decent house for a piece of paper to gain or maintain privilege. You have a reasonable desire to get that result.

    You’re also pricing out the riff-raff, especially the talented but not rich white kind, your ******* bete noire and nemesis.

    Diversité, égalité, Merde. But no actual Ice People. Just Ice Lilies. Actual Ice People would show them up, this isn’t an issue with Sun People.

    Ya know I gotta hand it to them. They’re right. It’s like the Arabs, who knew we were gonna get bent before we did and the games and opportunities to excel shall we say stopped.

    The Lilies are right.

    We do have to eat them.

    Nemesis doit faire signifier l’école incendie.

  3. Ray

    It’s cargo cult thinking. It was noted that people with a college degree were of higher socio-economic class than people without so it was concluded that this was caused by the college degree. It’s like noticing that soldiers with a marksmanship medal shoot better than other soldiers and concluding that if you give everyone a marksmanship medal then everyone will shoot better.

  4. Mike Pauwels

    “The government has created a negative feedback mechanism to ensure its own growth and survival. It subsidizes and encourages participation, all of which serve to increase costs, which produces calls for more subsidization and greater participation (in the interest of “fairness”).”

    This is a POSITIVE feedback system as are most government programs–and any engineer would expect such a system to grow to destruction. I guess that happens when we will run out of other peoples money.

  5. Briggs


    The “negative” was a joke.

  6. Briggs


    Latest Fred on Everything is apropos.

    These enlarged children were paying for college, or at least their fathers were, and they wanted value for money. That meant grades. Soon everybody was getting As and Bs. What they were not getting was an education but since they didn´t know what one was, they didn´t notice. They called themselves men and women, without behaving as such, but that was close enough. They attended a College-Shaped Place, so they figured they must be going to college, and they got great grades, so they must be learning something.

  7. Sylvain Allard

    There’s a problem with your theory, in Canada, Universities are all government owned and the cost of education is pretty much stable and much less expansive than in the USA. The same goes for health care.

    The lack of oversight and transparency is what gives the chance to university to have disputable expanses and salaries.

  8. Scotian

    Sorry Sylvain, but universities in Canada are not government owned. They may be heavily subsidized but they are not owned. In all my years at one university or another I would have noticed. State universities in the USA are, however, government owned.

  9. Gary

    An overlooked contributing factor to administrative bloat is the need/demand for personal attention that a large proportion of students now require. These are not self-reliant kids. Many grew up with instant communication and helicopter parents hovering to supply every perceived need. Just last week I heard a faculty member say that her hardest task in terms of academic advising was to get students to take initiative for their own success. Blame who you want; the reality is that provision of a wide range of academic and co-curricular services with personal contact and immediate help is expensive. As long as enrollments at current prices stays strong, this won’t change.

  10. Briggs


    And there only will be an increase in “helicoptering” as parents have fewer kids. When you only have one, it is intolerable anything unfortunate should befall that child.

  11. Scotian

    I don’t buy the helicopter parent complaint. Not only does it smack of snark but it is an unprofessional comment. Universities used to encourage parental interest, but it seems that they have too much to hide now. Every student can use an advocate and I speak with experience from both sides of the issue.

    By the way, Douglas MacArthur had a helicopter parent.


  12. Gary

    Scotian, I speak from a 35-year inside view as a non-faculty staff member at a medium-sized public institution.

    Absolutely, students need mentoring from parent and college personnel alike. In fact we strongly encourage it because it’s a strong promoter of academic success. But what would you say about the young woman complaining to daddy on her cell phone about waiting in a line for a few minutes so that he would make a fussy with somebody? Or the student who fails to attend morning classes because mom isn’t around to wake him up? Yes, these are anecdotes, but they’re not uncommon and are behaviors enabled by parents. They also may be extreme, but what is rather commonplace is bewilderment and inability to navigate through the college terrain.

    Any snark you think you detect is read into my comment, not intended. “Helicopter” is meant here to be descriptive, not pejorative. It has wide use as a term.

    And finally FWIW, I too advocated for my child when necessary. My point about helicoptering is that advocacy can become micro-management to the student’s detriment.

  13. VXXC

    “in Canada, Universities are all government owned”.

    Well in the United States the Government is University Owned.

    They provide Academic Priesthood that governs the USA. All decisions are made at the University, which then publishes to direct the Civil Service, which tells our Yes Minister Government what to do.

    Also in the United States we have anti-majority, anti-American government and elites. Certainly this can be said of the Universities. I don’t think Canada has Anti-Canadian government.

  14. VXXC


    We’re talking about American Education.

    54/40 ****.

    You speak from both sides of the issue. I BET.

    why BTW is an academic using GASP Wikipedia as a reference?

    Better hope NSA doesn’t find your IP and pass this wiki gaffe around the lounge.

    See, we all have something to hide…

  15. VXXC

    The Problem with Canada is we never conquered it. We got very close in 1776.

    Had we conquered it, Canada too would benefit as Germany and Japan have…

    You too would be bankrupted, gelded, and stop having kids.

    As it is Canada is well run and solvent. They also have good benefits. This is because they don’t benefit from anti-majority social democracy.

    But we can change that.

  16. Briggs


    Dude. Maybe you can form the advance guard. I’m thinking Saskatoon would fall without a fight. Report back to us when you return.

  17. Scotian


    The complaints that you mention are trivial and as old as the school system itself. The problems that I have had to deal with were serious and evolved either the abuse of authority or a total indifference as to whether the paperwork was correct or not. I will give an example of just one from high school where a counsellor had switched the registration of my daughter against both her wishes as well as my own. I had to go all the way to the principal to correct the error. The principal agreed and over ruled the counsellor. The error if allowed to stand would have forced my daughter to spend another year in high school for one course. Possibly teachers and staff considered me to be a helicopter parent from then on, but they were also careful not to make any more mistakes. A humorous side note is that many of my daughter’s friends followed her registration pattern and nobody messed with them either. There were also a few problems at university as well but as a professor I knew the pitfalls and exactly who to speak to. Most of my colleagues have found that they had to do similar things for their children.

    The snark comment refers not to you but to some of my colleagues, especially in the faculty of education. The disdain in their voice was palatable. I told them that thay could use some adult supervision. As you can see I am a very blunt person. I rarely see micromanagement to the student’s detriment. I can only recall one such case and even then it was a toss up. I believe that we need much more parental involvement – a whole fleet of helicopters. If that were to happen we would see faculty and administrative staff who were much more attentive to detail.

    By the way my father was a high school teacher and vice principal and I took math and science from him. Thus you can see that there has been a family history of parental oversight. No micromanagement was ever necessary and the family line has produced three generations of strong willed individuals with more to come.

    Finally, I claim that much of the bewilderment and inability to navigate the college terrain is a feature of a lackadaisical administration and not the parents. Since most parents are not university professors or high school teachers and are not on site there is very little that they can do, unless they become helicopters. When I have advised students – I was once departmental chair – they quickly learned what they needed to do.

  18. Scotian


    I sure hope that you are not accusing me of lying. Them’s fighting words where I come from. Also, I think that you mean 1812-1814 where we kicked your …

    Briggs addition: Invading Saskatchewan would be like Napoleon in Russia, but I assume that was your point.

  19. VXXC

    No Briggs, go right for Toronto. The Western Provinces want to secede anyway. BTW Briggs that is such an elegant way of saying p*ss off. You are indeed a gentleman.


    I was referring to 1775-76. Actually we almost took Quebec City – having taken Montreal and most of the rest – but Arnold was wounded and Montgomery killed in the final assault.


    Otherwise you’d be American and know what we’re talking about, and not compare Canadian governance to American Ruling Class gangsterism. I’m glad Canada was spared. I am less glad when they hector us. You have an inferiority complex second only to the Indians [I mean from India, not the “Aboriginals”] and it’s very wearying. It’s so predictable, almost as dreary as talking to a snooty academic.

    I was not saying lying, but the – in America anyway – unthinkable error in judgment in using Wikipedia as a reference. No self-respecting American academic would want this ever known, he’d rather have the complete photographic record of his frequent vacations in Thailand. Which of course soon enough will probably make him an unassailable protected class. An American Academic who uses Wikis is a traitor to his class. Really. If Wiki works, we just might not need to bankrupt and enserf our youth as debt peons.

    I wouldn’t even use La Wik on anything controversial, like MacArthur. His enemies wrote his history, and his enemies are list nearly as long as Hitler.

    If they’d had Helicopters when MacArthur was a child, his Helicopter parenting would have been being pushed out of one on an Air Assault rope prior to him hitting puberty.

    For instance compare the hideous ordeal of paperwork referred to above to MacArthur being hazed at West Point, and then having to testify but not inform at the Trial of the Hazers. Helicopter Mommy MacArthur informed him “never lie, never tattle”.

    I don’t think that’s the Canadian standard. Is it.

  20. Scotian


    I can’t believe that I have to do this.

    My quote: “Every student can use an advocate and I speak with experience from both sides of the issue.”
    Your quote: “You speak from both sides of the issue. I BET.”

    Understand now.

    MacArthur did attend West Point and his mother did follow him there. None of this is controversial. What is your point?

    Did a Canadian push you into the mud when you were a kid?

  21. VXXC


    You don’t. You don’t have to do anything. I recommend when it comes to America or Americans you simply [not speak]. It’s not your place.

    You may have a better government. That’s not hard. It doesn’t mean you have a better country. Or a better people. But I don’t care. Canada does. It’s way worse than Europe. Get over us, will you? It’s not us, it’s you. Just forget about us.

    I recommend you ignore us. We will certainly repay the favor. Where are you again?

    If not I suppose while we’re attending to some internal housekeeping, a matter that presses more each day, we can come North and teach you what proper American Governance is. Soon your beloved Saskafuggadaboutit can be cracked out, your Mounties castrated, harried, in hiding, your professors making their charges debt peons, and legions and legions of counselors.

    In fact I think we’ll make it our first order of business to replace the Mounties with TSA.


    You don’t know what you’re talking about when it comes to America. I’m glad you don’t have anti-majority government in Canada. I’m glad your government aren’t street criminals with Ivy League Degrees. Our government is exactly that. However that Canada does it better isn’t necessarily a point that needs to be injected into every conversation about America. Unless you’re Canadian.

    If a Canadian had pushed me into the mud, I’d respect him.

    Edited: civility, please.

  22. Scotian


    I guess that you are attempting to prove the old adage that Canadians are more polite than Americans. Never put much credence in it, myself. Of course, I don’t know that you are American anymore than you know that I am Canadian. Some friendly advice: learn to control your temper – you’ll be happier.

  23. VXXC

    I’m nowhere near upset. Actually I’m relishing this…

    I’m just reflexively defending America. With Relish.

    Yes, I’m American.

    Look the point is what did Canada doing it better have to do with America’s educational problems? Except for an oppo to plug Canada as being superior. Something that will, will work it’s way into anything within a Canadians earshot. I’m curious. Do you do this with every other country, or just us?

    Look get over us. It shouldn’t be hard. We were never really a thing…ya know? Yes we have a bigger House, yes Canada could have been one of it’s prettiest wings. But there’s really no US to get over…there never was an US. And if you were getting college bills here you’d be grateful.

    Briggs — Civility has been the Usher of the Apocalypse.

  24. Scotian


    I never said that Canadians did it better. I think that you have me confused with someone else. You need to go back and carefully re-read my posts. Your rants have come out of nowhere. If you relish rudeness then my advice still stands.

  25. Sylvain Allard


    I’m not sure if American actually understand there own country.

    The world would be very happy to forget about America and lets its conservatives wing throw it down the toilet. The problem is that the USA believe that they are god and that they must dictate the world how to live.

    Do the USA need a military budget higher than the next 20 something countries combine together? If you were not meddling in other people business you wouldn’t need it.

    You want other to stop meddling in your affairs then you just need to stop meddling in other people affairs.

  26. Micha Elyi

    The world would be very happy to forget about America and lets its conservatives wing throw it down the toilet.
    –Sylvain Allard

    Who appointed you to speak for “the world”?

    Do the USA need a military budget higher than the next 20 something countries combine together?

    Probably not, but a lot of other countries do. Three times in the past century France – to pick but one example – saw a big army rise to its east and was grateful that a USA with a rather high military budget was there to defend it. When the threat receded, then came a lot of ungrateful and shortsighted talk like yours.

    Let’s take Canada as another example. Had the U.S. been so thoroughly isolationist in the past 100 years as you’d wish, that country would certainly have fallen under Axis control when Britain fell and still be divided up and ruled by World War II aggressors Germany, the Soviet Union, and the Empire of Japan.

    As a more up-to-date example, let us recall the cries of the Euros for U.S. involvement in Libya. The E.U. countries couldn’t even subdue little Libya without U.S. assistance. It’s only called “meddling” when it’s not being called “assistance” or “duty to American allies”.

  27. Sylvain Allard

    Let’s see, of course, US propaganda couldn’t allow from some real truth about the two world war.

    First, the US didn’t win WW1. They join the fight once the German were already defeated. The extra-men the US provided only expedited the process. And the reason why they fought had little to do with helping the French or the British. It was mainly the use of submarine that forced the US to join the war. They joined the war because the US because the German were attacking US merchant ships at sea jeopardizing the US economy.

    Second, in WW2, the German were beaten by Russia, and again the allies opened the second front to try to prevent Russia from gaining too much ground. The European theater was about stopping the advance of communism instead of defeating the German. But You did beat the Japenese

    Third, in Lybia, it was a NATO operation in which the US did very little action, but you did much on the logistic side.

  28. Gary

    Scotian, you say “The complaints that you mention are trivial and as old as the school system itself.” Exactly. But so common now that it takes significant time away from fixing the more serious problems you cite by example. To deal with it all takes more administrators — an undesirable situation, but fact nonetheless. Which was the only point of my original comment.

    As for snarkiness, scold your colleagues about pejorative language, not me.

  29. Scotian


    I feel that I wasn’t clear in my story, a not unusual occurrence. The error that I mentioned wasn’t inadvertent and was more the result of too many administrators and not a lack of the same. It was an abuse of authority of the councilor who refused to change the registration which is why I had to go to the principal. A councilor who thought an extra year was a good thing. You would have to know the convoluted system that comprised the Ontario high schools at the time. A system that was frankly corrupt, so they definitely needed adult supervision. The system has been changed since then, probably due in no small part through the actions of helicopter parents like myself.

    So if the trivial annoyances have increased then “the fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves…”

  30. VXXC


    In terms of Western Europe and Japan, as well as anywhere else in the “International Community”…WE.ARE.THE.WORLD. The International Community you speak of is located in Washington DC, Foggy Bottom, and the insane clown posse City Council Meeting of Turtle Bay.

    The conservatives you refer to however are pretty much America. Who provide the fighting muscle to back up the “International Community”. As well as whatever industrial brawn we can still muster. The relationship of Leftists in America is the relationship of Brussels to the rest of Europe. That’s also the relationship of our national government to THE PEOPLE.

    Who actually you know would leave the world. There’d be consequences, mostly borne by the world. Of which I care not a fig…

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