Goldwater misses the point

The Goldwater Institute is at it again.  Earlier this month, the think tank released a report entitled, “Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Education.”  In pursuit of validating its privatize-everything worldview, the report references data from 1993 to 2007, using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to infer that the cost of universities have increased because of administrative bloat, thus making them inefficient.

But in an official statement issued Aug. 13, ASU exposes the report as flawed and disingenuous.  According to ASU, the Goldwater Institute has inflated the number of administrators by combining “executive/administrative/managerial” positions with “other professionals” who support student educational services like your academic advisor or laboratory staff.

To the Goldwater Institute, there is no difference between the workers in the library and your college dean.  It is apparent that the “Get Your Diploma and Leave” Institute views education as an assembly line with no room for improving your experience as a student outside of the classroom.  If the Institute had its way, students could kiss their organizations goodbye, say sayonara to the career center and navigate financial aid without the help of counselors.

But Arizona and other states have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from their higher education budgets over the past few years, forcing universities like ASU to restructure to become more efficient.  Maybe the Goldwater Institute has been in a hole after its financial bubble burst in 2008, because the report also claims “students pay only a small portion of administrative costs.”  A quick look at ASU’s 2009 annual report shows that the majority of its revenue comes from tuition and fees, 33 percent, followed by state funding at a measly 27 percent.

So why the “bloat?” in ASU’s annual report referenced above, ASU switched from what it called a “low cost, low access” structure, to a “high cost, high financial aid” model in 2003.  One goal was to increase student enrollment in the University, which undeniably has happened during the tenure of President Michael Crow.  However, one should note that increased enrollment does not indicate college affordability.  Mark Kantrowitz of FinAid.org estimates that there is $730 billion in amassed public and private student loan debt.  Data such as this may indicate that more students are willing to bury themselves in tens of thousands of dollars in loans and credit card debt in order to get their bachelor or graduate degree.  It is my humble opinion that if ASU was concerned about college access and affordability, it would have stuck with the low tuition model. But maybe that’s not its main concern.

What is ASU’s primary concern, then?  According to The State Press on Oct. 16, 2009, W.P. Carey School of Business Dean Robert Mittelstaedt stated at a lunchtime lecture with the Harvard Business School Club of Arizona in Phoenix: “There’s no reason for taxpayers to subsidize people that can afford to pay about $15,000 for in-state tuition.” Because ASU has described itself as a “free-market institution” with students as its “products,” it is apparent that ASU is more concerned about competing as a business than providing an education.

In a state where its constitution says education should be nearly free, the trend in Arizona is drifting in the opposite direction.  Instead of focusing on administrative technicalities, think tanks and universities should be looking toward more effective ways of reducing costs and increasing state funding.

Reach Athena at asalman3@asu.edu