“The Federal Leviathan Is Crushing Colleges and Universities”

Jenna A. Robinson and Jesse Saffron, Pope Center:

Last year…the Task Force on Federal Regulation of Higher Education—formed in 2013 at the behest of a bipartisan group of U.S. senators and comprised of top university officials from around the country—released a stunning indictment of what it called the “jungle of red tape” produced by the Education Department. The report cited analysis from George Mason’s Mercatus Center that showed federal higher education mandates increased by 56 percent from 1997-2012.

Today, the situation is bleak: There are thousands of pages of federal regulations, and the Education Department has to release “guidance” letters to clarify vague rules once per day, on average, according to the Task Force.

Case studies from individual schools reveal just how burdensome compliance can be. One example comes from Vanderbilt University, which recently analyzed its federal compliance costs and found that they accounted for $150 million—or 11 percent—of the university’s 2013 expenditures. (Vanderbilt announced that for each student, those compliance costs “equate to approximately $11,000 in additional tuition per year.”)

Earlier here. More from reader mx in comments, who notes that the Chronicle of Higher Education has criticized the Vanderbilt number on the grounds that most of the university’s regulatory costs ($117 million of $146 million) is attributed to compliance related to research, which is not necessarily charged to students as tuition.

One Comment

  • The Vanderbilt figure is extremely misleading, as detailed in the Chronicle of Higher Education last year. The vast majority of those costs are for overhead associated with federally-funded research, overhead costs that are actually paid as part of research grants (meaning that the compliance costs represent both revenue and expenditures to the school) and are certainly not passed on to students. While it may be worthwhile to look at whether overhead on research grants is excessive, that’s very different from arguing that students are paying over $10K/year to comply with regulations.

    Nor is there any logical methodology to actually understand compliance costs. Suppose health and safety regulations lead to the conclusion that students and staff working with a particular chemical do so only inside of a fume hood. Should the tens of thousands of dollars for the hood, installation, duct work, etc… be considered a compliance cost? Or should they just be considered the cost of equipment needed to work with a dangerous chemical? If a university chooses to spend millions to build a new lab capable of studying dangerous pathogens, should it call that entire expense a compliance cost since there are inevitably federal regulations that prohibit you from studying Ebola in an English classroom?