Regulation and Compliance Drive Up Price of Education

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Lots of people in higher education complain about the improving burdens of regulation, with some requiring that it has driven administrative bloat, but the exact toll on schools remains a mystery. That’s due to the fact very few colleges have bothered to measure the cost of compliance in bucks or employee time, because that task is too complicated or very costly in itself.

In November four U. S. senators introduced the formation of a task pressure of 14 college presidents and higher-education officials who will examine the result of regulation on colleges. Among those presidents is Margaret L. Drugovich of Hartwick College, who has been talking to other college leaders regarding starting to measure regulatory burdens. Several presidents have told her that the job is just too big.

“We are the only ones who can make the truth obvious—no one else can perform it, ” she said in a session on the topic at the Authorities of Independent Colleges’ Presidents Institute, the Chronicle of Higher Ed Reports. She and her colleagues around the task force fear that if some other institutions don’t step up, policy makers might assume that the problem is not significant enough to excite college administrators, making it harder to push back on regulatory burdens in the future.

Ms. Drugovich’s institution, in fact , offers completed a study of the costs of regulatory compliance, which she discussed at the CIC meeting. Hartwick’s audit provides an incomplete assessment of the college’s regulatory burden, Ms. Drugovich recognized, because the college measured only the time that employees spent on completing compliance-reporting forms.

Still, the numbers reveal quite a bit about the variety of organizations the college must respond to: twenty-eight federal agencies, 15 state companies, seven accrediting agencies, four nearby governments, three athletic associations, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and four miscellaneous private organizations.

Each year Hartwick employees spend about 7, 200 hours on compliance reporting, at a cost of regarding $300, 000 to the institution. Approximately 100 Hartwick employees and 6 Aramark contractors working for Hartwick possess some role in compliance tasks. In some cases.

“Frankly, some of it we’re doing to ourselves, ” Ms. Drugovich said. “The biggest portion of labor hours is not used on federal regulation, but it is used on NCAA. ”

Within the grand scheme of things, $300, 000 might not seem like a lot of money, yet Ms. Drugovich implored the market to keep some things in mind: The research assessed only the cost of reporting activities and did not measure all the chance costs associated with regulation throughout the college. The best question, she said, is which regulations are necessary and helpful, and which are burdensome, contradictory, and stifling innovation.

One market member—a president of a Vermont college—said complying with regulations was an outsize burden for small schools in her state, one that in some cases may threaten the viability of those institutions.

Ms. Drugovich shared the podium with Claude O. Pressnell Jr., president from the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association. His organization has also made a force among its member colleges to quantify regulatory burdens—particularly the problems associated with Title IV financial-aid programs.

“We ran in to cost issues, ” Mr. Pressnell said. “Campuses were saying, We can’t afford to study how much time we put into regulatory compliance. ” This individual asked Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and one of the 4 U. S. senators who created the task force on regulatory problems, for help in getting grants to do the study. He said the senator’s response was “sympathetic and uncommitted. ”

Colleges may look elsewhere for money to do more research on compliance costs. “You know, there are two foundations that are really driving the higher-education-reform agenda—that’s the Gates Foundation and Lumina, ” Mr. Pressnell said. “I think they ought to step up. ”

In the meantime, it’s up to schools to offer data and other support following the task force starts meeting the following month.

“We need more institutions to help us with this, ” he said. “If there is a call for help from the committee, and it falls on deaf ears, it will cripple the committee, and Congress will say, ‘It must not be that huge of a deal, and you’d much better stop complaining about it. ’”

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