One Reason Higher Education is Stagnating

Posted By Marisa Sanfilippo on August 22, 2017 at 10:00 am
One Reason Higher Education is Stagnating

Institutions of higher education are faced with demands from students and parents for greater amenities. This has led to the development of greater student services and amenities such as mental-health counseling, extravagant recreation centers, and luxury residence halls that all come with an increased cost and greater bureaucracy.

While these increased costs may not be the primary contributing factor, they do still play a role in the stagnation of the quality of education compared to the price of enrollment.

Necessary amenities?

What is meant by the term amenities in the world of higher education? That depends on who is asking the question. For students who need mental health services it is a necessity, not a luxury amenity. Those who never need it would likely have a different opinion. The same is true for wellness centers, athletic facilities, or university-funded groups and organizations.

Craig Ullom, founder of NextPath Learning, identified the primary concern of parents after conducting extensive research.

“The top areas parents see as important to support their child’s success in college include safety and security, career services, academic support services, and opportunities for student engagement,” he found.

However, he was careful to point out that what that means for each family can be very different. He further explained these priorities should be a strong determining factor in choosing a university or program that best fulfills those requirements for each student.

With that in mind, there is an obvious difficulty for universities in deciding what to fund. To attract more students, they need to stay competitive in what they offer.

According to Pamela Rambo, a professional academic advisor and retired financial aid director, colleges should consider these questions about spending:

  • Does it impact academic quality?
  • Does it have value to students, their families, and future employers?
  • Will it help keep students safe?
  • Will it support student success?
  • Will it help students get jobs after graduation?

The above questions are also a good way for parents and students to prioritize what they are looking for in a school. It might be nice to have an indoor water park, leisure pool with lazy river, climbing walls, and obstacle courses, but students need to ask themselves how those amenities facilitate their academic growth and long-term career plans.

Increased bureaucratic cost

When new amenities and programs are added, they require oversight. This increases the administration costs without necessarily increasing the academic benefit to students.

A recent report released by the American Institutes for Research analyzed staffing patterns in higher education. Some of the key findings include:

  • Between 2000 and 2012, the workforce in higher education grew by 28 percent but resulted in fewer staff per 1,000 students due to increased enrollment.
  • Administrative job growth was widespread, focused primarily in professional positions such as human resources staff, business analysts, and admissions staff.
  • Spending on wages for student services positions increased the fastest between 2002 and 2012.
  • Even though the number of professional administrative and managerial workers grew, the total number of staff and faculty declined to 2.5 or fewer per administrator.

Some schools are beginning to evaluate this increase in administrative oversight and associated costs in relation to student outcomes. The University of Maine recently drastically reimagined infrastructure to reduce administrative bloat to bring its budget more in line with revenue.

Increased construction

According to a report released by Wells Fargo, construction spending in education has been on the rise. Construction spending on student housing in the first 11 months of 2016 was up 20 percent over the previous year.

Schools are also spending on instructional construction, which is up 11.6%. Projects more than $100 million were primarily focused on STEM. Examples include the University of Maryland’s computer science building and the science center at Armherst College.

This type of increased spending provides a higher level of academic quality and should facilitate greater student success.

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa is an award-winning marketing professional who loves to write. During the day, she wears her marketing hat in her marketing director role and at night she works as a freelance writer, ghost writing for clients and contributing to publications such as Huffington Post and Social Media Today.

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