Think College Costs Too Much? Thank the Government.

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I am not going to argue that a four-year college education isn’t expensive. It is. I won’t argue that its return on investment makes it worthwhile, although it surely does. I also cannot argue that increasing the number of administrators doesn’t increase the cost of a higher education. It does.

In recent years at Saint Leo University, we have added positions in risk management, internal audit (two), legal compliance, financial-aid regulatory compliance, human resources, accounting, security and safety, athletic training, athletic compliance, and university-accreditation compliance. In every one of these instances, we are generally responding directly or indirectly to federal regulatory mandates, legal trends, insurers’ expectations, accreditors’ requirements, and so on.

Take internal audit. The federal Sarbanes-Oxley legislation was a reaction to the collapse of the energy-trading behemoth Enron Corporation in 2001 and to legitimate concerns about corporate accounting accuracy, integrity, and boards of directors fulfilling their governance-oversight responsibilities. However, it has driven significant changes in our nonprofit board’s concerns, oversight, and actions. The resulting increased financial oversight, internal audit, and risk management are all reasonable and responsible activities—and all require administrative staff and add substantial real costs. Students and parents pay.

Societal, institutional, parental, student, and insurance-company concerns about concussions and other injuries demanded more athletic trainers to evaluate, watch over, and treat collegiate athletes. Baseline concussion tests for all athletes every year before the season are prudent, but also add expense. Having athletic trainers attend to athletes before, during, and after every practice and game is a good thing, but it is costly. The NCAA also expects us to employ a person who does not coach, to ensure compliance with the many NCAA rules. That costs money, too.

Legitimate concerns about keeping every student safe and secure, including complying with the federal Clery Act crime-reporting requirement, are another driver of tuition costs. Recently, President Obama announced his intention to hold colleges more accountable for how they handle allegations of rape on their campuses. This drives increases in security as well as legal and student-life staff. Nothing is free.

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