Problem of rising tuition hardly unique


Richard Shu, Deputy Copy Chief

A recent New York Times opinion piece published on April 4 discussed the national ballooning cost of college, a concept to which NYU is certainly familiar. These tuition increases are following excessive administration costs. The cost of college, including tuition, housing and fees, has increased  twelvefold since 1980, roughly four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index. From the 2013-14 to 2014-15 school year alone, tuition at private, nonprofit four-year colleges increased by an average of 3.7 percent.

The real beneficiaries of more expensive educations, however, are not the professors and faculty but the university administrations that watch over them. From 1975 to 2005, administrator-to-student ratios have increased drastically, from one administrator per 84 students to one per 68. During the same period, teacher-to-student ratios have remained roughly the same. Under the pretense of improving the university’s quality of education, bureaucrats are taking money that would otherwise go toward more teaching staff. Meanwhile, administrations have relatively little to show on their
behalf — since 2002, national six-year graduation rates have barely improved from 55 to 58 percent.

This lopsided growth suggests a distressing trend to a more bureaucratic, top-heavy university organization, more committed to looking busy than doing actual scholarly work. The more striking examples of this organizational shift include team-building retreats to Hawaii and extravagant houses for high-ranking faculty. The greater ranks of administrative pencil-pushers — and their salaries — make up a more pernicious drain on university coffers.

This misappropriation of funding is felt especially acutely here at NYU. The lavish estate holdings of NYU President John Sexton are hardly news anymore, and his generous $800,000 yearly severance package certainly has not helped his image. Many other administrators have seen six- or seven-figure salaries and retirement packages, as well as university-paid housing  priced around millions of dollars. As NYU expands under NYU 2031, its administration is sure to expand along with it.

Reversing this trend would be as simple as remembering we are a university first and a real estate developer second. By scaling back on administrative spending and hiring more fully contracted teaching faculty, NYU would be able to funnel resources directly into improving its quality of education. Not only would the salaries and job security attract better professors, but it would also cut back on a detrimental corporatized, centralized organizational culture. If the administration has the gall to ask its own faculty and current students to help boost its endowment, it could do well to take a long, hard look at its own spending habits. More administration hurts students, while better-paid and longer-contracted teaching faculty help. Only when NYU adjusts its staffing style will its money finally be put to good use.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. 

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 14 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected].