The University of Virginia estimates that it spends $20 million a year complying with unfunded federal mandates, just for its academic division, reports Karin Kapsidelis with the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The College of William & Mary estimates its compliance costs at $4.5 million to $6.7 million, and Virginia Commonwealth University puts the number at $13 million.
The estimates come in response to a Congressional request for information as part of a review of federal review of unfunded mandates. Higher ed institutions say the costs were likely underestimated due to the short turnaround time for providing the figures.
While universities have blamed federal regulations in the past for pushing up the cost of higher education, Virginia institutions are not necessarily eager to roll them all back. Reports Kapsidelis:
“There are rules that if no one else put them on us, we would put them on ourselves,” said Samuel E. Jones, W&M’s senior vice president for finance and administration.
“There are some requirements we might want to take a hedge clipper to and not an ax,” said Gary Nimax, U.Va.’s assistant vice president for compliance. …
“We’re just waiting to see what might change,” said Nimax. … . “The idea of having fewer regulations is an attractive one.” But U.Va. would like to see the focus on cutting “the non-value-added pieces of these requirements,” he said.
Prime offenders are the Clery Act, which requires extensive reports on campus crime statistics that run nearly 100 pages long, and Title IX, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex in higher ed. The initial focus on campus athletic programs under Title IX has expanded to the regulation of student sexual behavior.
Bacon’s bottom line: For purposes of comparison, the University of Virginia generates roughly $500 million a year in tuition revenue and gets another
$150 million in state support. The $20 million regulatory burden amounts to 3% of those two sources of revenue. An argument can be made that federal regulations do contribute to the mushrooming costs of higher education, but insofar as universities’ priorities mirror those of the federal government — how many institutions would dismantle their Title IX bureaucracies? — it would be unrealistic to expect that deregulation would save much money.
Update: In an article about the growing self-censorship of faculty members due to fear of transgressing some politically correct taboo, the Wall Street Journal quotes Dale Carpenter, a Southern Methodist University law professor:
Universities have developed entire bureaucracies to combat the problem of discrimination and a hostile environment. Those bureaucracies are needed but the also tend to feed on their own momentum.
(This article first ran in Bacon’s Rebellion on February 21, 2017)
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