In a series of blogs for the academe.org site maintained by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Martin Kich  of Wright State University has assigned blame for the student debt crisis to a variety of factors but missed an obvious one—colleges and universities themselves.
- On December 12, 2012, he claimed “declining state support” was a factor. In doing so, he failed to note that federal and state spending for higher education invariably seesaws from year to year but the overall trajectory of government outlays for colleges and universities remains on an ever-upward path;
- On December 8 , he asserted that it was the move to loans from direct grants that helped provide the fuse for the debt bomb;
- On December 6 , he put it down to tuition increases. This at least puts us in the ballpark; and
- On December 5 , he put it down to “increased higher ed enrollment.”
All of the above leaves unanswered the question of where the money goes. The latest Chronicle of Higher Education has part of the answer. “Private-college presidents often draw scrutiny for their hefty compensation packages, but most of them have a ready comeback: I could make a lot more money in the corporate world,” Jack Stripling writes in the lead article in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education. “While this statement is surely sometimes true, it is also true that some of the nation’s top-paid presidents continue to receive perks that their corporate counterparts have relinquished under shareholder criticism.”
“Among the 50 highest-paid private-college presidents in 2010, half led institutions that provided top executives with cash to cover taxes on bonuses and other benefits, a Chronicle analysis has found. This practice, known as ‘grossing up,’ has fallen out of fashion at many publicly traded companies, where boards have decided the perk is simply not worth the shareholder outrage it can invite.”
“Those arrangements became radioactive over the last 10 years,” Mark A. Borges of Compensia, a consulting company told Stripling.
But then, that too begs the question of who the shareholders in a university are. Are they the students, who mostly get aid, grants and loans to complete their education? Are they the parents, who usually fill out the forms to enable their offspring to matriculate? Is it the trustees, who may contribute but can deduct whatever they do and usually put in cameo appearances on campus at homecoming games?
Or is it the taxpayers, who, increasingly foot the bill, albeit in a diffuse fashion, since the number of colleges and universities who receive no government funding approaches is one that most people can count on both of their hands?
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia .
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