Prioritizing a transparent education

A wave of national attention has hit the University of Minnesota in the past months, much of it directed at the University’s egregiously high tuition for state residents.

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal revealed years of financial mismanagement by University officials, feeding into a bloated administrative bureaucracy and then footing students with the bill.

The number of employees at the University with job titles containing “human resources” or “personnel” has burgeoned from 180 to 272 in the past eight years.

But this administrative statistic fails to tell the students’ side of the story. Thousands of students will graduate from the University this year saddled with crippling debt. American students today have more than $1 trillion in debt, a figure which exceeds even credit card debt. The unemployment rate for recent graduates has nearly doubled since 2005, and yet tuition continues to rise. We are the most indebted generation in history. The University is only exacerbating this problem for its students.

Naturally, students might wonder: Where is our money going? Here’s where it’s not going: to students. The rate of increase for administrative salaries was twice as high as the increase in student enrollment; nor is it going to teachers. The University’s administrative payroll has increased at a rate three times as high as the teaching payroll over the past decade.

“[Colleges are] competitive businesses, and institutions compete for students the same way Lexus and Mercedes compete for car buyers,” said Paul Lingenfelter, the executive director of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

The principal result of this endless competition is more debt for students.

The price of tuition at U.S. colleges has increased over 900 percent since 1978, 650 points above inflation. To provide a sense of perspective, the housing market, which collapsed and became a major component in this global recession, increased just 50 points above the consumer price index during that same
period.

In light of the national attention and these sobering facts, the University is faced with a choice: to renew its commitment to democratic teaching, education and engagement for all or to shun the will of its students and continue running our public institution as a business bent on maximizing profits.

Thankfully, administrators are not the only ones with a say in this matter. Students for a Democratic Society will be introducing a referendum for the all-campus elections this April.

The referendum will feature three key components. First, it will demand the release of a transparent annual budget, one that is accessible for students to review. Second, it will demand that administrators making more than $200,000 a year take a 10 percent reduction in their pay in order to redirect those funds toward student education. Third, it will require that future tuition hikes be subject to a vote by the student body. All of these measures are designed to increase accountability for the administration to its students.

If you believe education should be the first priority for the University, please make it your priority to vote this April.