The dramatic increase in noninstructional staff and spending at universities has driven tuition higher for decades. A new American Council of Trustees and Alumni study confirms the findings of earlier research that administrative bloat is raising costs without benefiting students. 

But the real danger of universities hiring staff who do not engage in teaching or research is not the expense, but how it corrupts the core mission of higher education. 

Universities are no longer focused on free academic inquiry in pursuit of the truth or the development of capable adults. Instead, they have employed an army of staff who either distract from that mission by providing therapeutic coddling to students or subvert truth-seeking by enforcing an ideological orthodoxy.

A fast-growing segment of noninstructional staff at universities consists of the people hired to promote a particular approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A recent Heritage Foundation report by James D. Paul, a distinguished doctoral fellow at the University of Arkansas, and I shows that the average university has more than 45 people devoted to diversity, equity, and inclusion. (The Daily Signal is the multimedia news outlet of The Heritage Foundation)

Universities have more people pushing diversity, equity, and inclusion than they have professors teaching history. Diversity, equity, and inclusion personnel are more than four times larger than the staff that provides legally mandated accommodations to students with disabilities.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni study demonstrates that from 2010 to 2018, “non-instructional spending—including student services (29%) and administration (19%)—grew faster than instructional spending (17%).” 

It also found that this rapid increase in student services, which includes diversity, equity, and inclusion staff, has contributed to higher tuition while doing nothing to improve student outcomes, including graduation rates. Higher college costs are burdening taxpayers and families, while building political pressure for irresponsible and regressive proposals to “forgive” student debt.

These financial harms are indeed worrisome, but the bigger threat from growing student-support staff, like those working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, is that they fundamentally undermine what colleges are supposed to do.

Colleges should facilitate free academic exchange in the pursuit of truth while developing their students to be capable, independent, and responsible citizens who contribute to the economy. These missions of truth-seeking and economic development are enshrined in mottos, like Harvard’s “Veritas,” and in laws that created many public universities, such as the Morrill or Land Grant Acts.

The growth of support staff, including those focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, subvert the traditional mission of higher education. Providing students with staff to organize their Greek and social life, entertain them with visiting comedians and pop musicians, run their intra-mural teams and aerobics classes, and hold their hands while “processing” the traumas of daily headlines infantilizes the students that universities should prepare for success as independent adults in the workplace and public square.

Having diversity, equity, and inclusion staff organize trainings, rallies, and struggle sessions to enforce a narrow ideological perspective on race, sex, and class restricts the open intellectual inquiry that universities need to pursue truth. 

Expanding student services—almost twice as much as academic instruction—doesn’t just raise costs. It also shifts power away from the faculty who can foster academic freedom and adult independence among students to babysitters, therapists, and political commissars who have little regard for the traditional missions of universities.

The only way to reverse this corruption of higher education is to starve the beast of funding. No amount of shaming universities by highlighting their construction of lazy rivers, canceling classes to hold group therapy sessions after the 2016 election, or training students to rank each other by “privilege” appears to deter them from expanding these activities.

The best strategy to curtail nonsense and refocus universities on their core missions is to curb the excess resources that facilitate that corruption. If funds are tight, universities will have to be more attentive to what students, their families, and taxpayers really prefer. It is very unlikely they prefer an army of babysitters and ideological indoctrinators over professors and classes.

States have already begun to reduce their direct appropriation of funds to public universities, but this has been more than made up by a huge expansion in federal subsidies and loans. If those loans turn into gifts, higher education federal taxpayer subsidies become much larger.

Eliminating federal subsidies and limiting the availability of loans will help end the real dangers of growing noninstructional staff on campus.

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