Thursday Reading List: College Cost Explosion and Behind the Scenes on Betsy

Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report looks at how much colleges and universities are spending on bureaucracy:

Some small private colleges are spending almost twice as much on administration as on academics, according to a study by an association of university trustees. The study, based on financial data provided by colleges and universities themselves to the federal government, found that 64 cents was spent on administration at the smallest private colleges for every 36 cents spent on instruction. The proportions declined with economies of scale, according to the study, by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA.

Marcus subsequently reports that the number of administrators has grown twice as quickly as the number of students in these schools in the last twenty-five years. University apologists offer a range of excuses for this explosion in costs: the need to recruit the best students through offering amenities, inflation, international competition, etc. It's hard to see, however, how any of this is sustainable, given that a huge swath of the country already is skeptical about the value of higher education.

In other news, Melinda D. Anderson of The Atlantic looks at how believing in meritocracy affects children:

... a newly published study in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development [finds] traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem and an increase in risky behaviors during their middle-school years. The research is considered the first evidence linking preteens’ emotional and behavioral outcomes to their belief in meritocracy, the widely held assertion that individual merit is always rewarded. “If you’re in an advantaged position in society, believing the system is fair and that everyone could just get ahead if they just tried hard enough doesn’t create any conflict for you … [you] can feel good about how [you] made it,” said Erin Godfrey, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhardt School. But for those marginalized by the system—economically, racially, and ethnically—believing the system is fair puts them in conflict with themselves and can have negative consequences.

There is no real good news here. On the one hand, we want to build children's self-esteem and sense of efficacy. On the other hand, we don't want to lie to them about the nature of the society in which they're being raised.

Finally today, Lisa Miller of New York has a long, tough piece about United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos:

Trump has hired other oligarchs to run his federal agencies, and he has staffed the Executive branch with people who, like DeVos, might have been called “lobbyists” in former lives. But DeVos is a hybrid of the two. Fortified by great wealth and strong religion in the shelter of a monochromatic community, she has throughout her life single-mindedly used that wealth to advance her educational agenda. DeVos believes passionately in “school choice,” the idea that poor families should have the same educational options as rich ones do — and that the best way to achieve this is to deregulate schools, creating an educational free market driven by consumer demand. (In the first regard, DeVos has good company; in the second, she is an outlier.) She was raised to believe she knew exactly what was right. And for decades, this certainty has propelled her ever forward, always with her singular goal in mind. But what’s right in the bubble in which she has always lived doesn’t translate on YouTube, or in Cabinet meetings, or on the battlefield of public schools, where stakeholders have been waging vengeful politics for years.

While the level of scrutiny in this piece - especially with respect to DeVos's wealth and family life - might seem over-the-top, it's important to remember that most cabinet members and high ranking politicos have been in the public eye for large portions of their adult lives. Devos, on the other hand, has operated behind the scenes. The public should know about the background, beliefs, and motivations of its most prominent officials.

Have a great day.