Education, Featured, Uncategorized

Shepherd: Bill on tuition caps failed to address root of the problem

What’s the best outcome a political party can generate with a divided General Assembly? Torpedoing bills never designed to succeed but which make great fodder for political mailers, of course!

The most recent of these outcomes is a bill disingenuously offered up by Colorado Democrats that fits the populist tone: “Candidate X voted against capping skyrocketing tuition increases that would have helped struggling middle class Colorado families,” the placard will read.

The bill in question was killed last week 5-4 on a party-line vote that would have placed a 6% cap on single year tuition increases at the state’s institutions of higher education. No doubt, the rising price of tuition is a concern, not for just Colorado, but nationwide.

While I’m against price caps on either side of the demand/supply equation, it’s a wonder Democrats didn’t proffer a cap on what higher ed is spending – you know, cap things like salaries. Probably because to do so would enrage a reliable core constituency, left-leaning professors and administrators who regularly donate in overwhelming percentages to Democrat causes. Cap spending, and tuition increases will naturally slow, or stop all together.

The increases in the spending side of the equation aren’t academic. recently published a lengthy and devastating analysis of just how much the administrative leviathan in higher ed has grown in Colorado. For example, in 2004, the top 10 highest-paid administrators at CU combined for $2.8 million in payroll. By 2014, that figure had ballooned to $4.1 million. What other employment sector can boast a 41% increase in salaries in the midst of The Great Recession?

In 1976, there were approximately three administrators per 100 students, on a national average. “Now there are roughly six of these kinds of employees…adjusted for enrollment changes,” Richard Vedder told the BizWestJournal. Red tape is often death by a thousand cuts. (Vedder is a professor of Economics at Ohio University.)

It’s tough to stand up to academics who argue the only way to maintain competitiveness is through pay. But across 50 states, creative solutions must emerge somewhere.  Someone must tell our academic emperors they have no clothes. Convincing your captive audience they must pay more because they’re too uneducated to know better is a cruel and never ending tyranny.

Capping higher ed spending (80 precent of which is estimated to be personnel costs) no doubt oversimplifies a problem that’s been growing for decades. But if that’s true, then it’s doubly true of the bill sacrificed by Democrats. Capping tuition hikes without addressing the growth in spending would have only created a deficit spending situation, which would provide Ds more leverage in their larger war to eliminate TABOR. It’s not a cynical Master’s thesis to think Democrats knew all of that. If they didn’t know all of that, our education worries are worse than we ever imagined.

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