A Modest Proposal

The PPACA instituted a cap on health insurance spending such that at least 80% of health insurance premiums must be spent on care. Academics like Elizabeth Warren love this idea.  So here is my modest proposal -- let's require that public universities spend at least 80% of tuition on classroom instruction.  If they spend more than 20% on administration and overhead, it gets rebated back to students.  Having nearly universally supported such a provision in the PPACA, academics surely can't oppose this, can they?


  1. Capt Grandpa:

    Why limit it to public universities? Private school academics also think it is the role of government to tell private sector insurance companies how to operate.

  2. delurking:

    Your point is well-taken, but they probably do, if you use standard accounting techniques where the facilities and administrative costs are rolled into instructor salaries as overhead. You would have to put in rules about what is and isn't overhead, and then the panache is gone.

  3. me:

    LOL. I do love this type of restriction... if only we could get this applied to taxes - no more than 20% can be spent on any administrative function...

  4. perlhaqr:

    Capt Granpa: While we're daydreaming, let's add public K-12 schools, too. 😀


  5. David:

    I think it's a great idea, and we could even be generous and exempt the current annual price of the facilities from the 20% (although any future expansion would fall into that...)

  6. Jim Collins:

    As long as we are at it, how about 80% of tuition be used for core classes related to a specific major?

  7. NL_:

    AKA the "force universities to cancel capital construction and outsource parking, dorms and sports teams" rule.

  8. a_random_guy:

    Don't laugh, a lot of academics would support this, at least, those who are actually *doing* instruction. A good quality teaching university should have a staff:instructor ration of 2:3 or so. In fact, some colleges and universities have staff ratios of 2:1 or worse. If you discount the "instructors" in idiotic fields ("xxx studies", etc.), the ratios are even worse.

  9. BFD:

    Never fly as you'd be putting a gazillion diversity coordinators out of work.

  10. Barak A. Pearlmutter:

    I'm a professor and I SUPPORT THIS PROPOSAL.

    For a long discussion of how wonderful putting the brakes on administrative creep in academia, see "The Fall of the Faculty" by Benjamin Ginsberg, reviewed at

  11. Sam L.:

    a_r_g, there ain't enough of them to outvote the others.

  12. T J Sawyer:

    Any accountant worthy of his title would have no trouble demonstrating that his institution just happens to meet that requirement currently.

    As the old joke goes:
    A businessman was interviewing job applications for the position of manager of a large division. He quickly devised a test for choosing the most suitable candidate. He simply asked each applicant this question, "What is two plus two?"
    The first interviewee was a journalist. His answer was, "Twenty-two".
    The second was a social worker. She said, "I don't know the answer but I'm very glad that we had the opportunity to discuss it."
    The third applicant was an engineer. He pulled out a slide rule and came up with an answer "somewhere between 3.999 and 4.001."
    Next came an attorney. He stated that "in the case of Jenkins vs. the Department of the Treasury, two plus two was proven to be four."
    Finally, the businessman interviewed an accountant. When he asked him what two plus two was, the accountant got up from his chair, went over to the door, closed it, came back and sat down. Leaning across the desk, he said in a low voice, "How much do you want it to be?" He got the job.

  13. Patrick:

    Universities already spend significantly more than 100% of tuition on classroom instruction. It's a lot closer for the humanities majors, whose cost is only labor (although once you factor in that most are in a few discussion sessions with under ten students that create 20 hours of work for someone it adds up, even at grad student ramen wages it's generally more than the cost of tuition.)

    The real expense is the sciences - in addition to labor each student is another thousand dollars for Matlab, another thousand for Maple (this keeps going, by the way - there's also a lot of exotic stuff like the Penn Treebank which you need a license for if you're going to teach real NLP that cost 100k a university), and tons in support costs a year because undergrads tend to accidentally crash computer systems and break machining tools and that's just accepted a inevitable.

    Tuition really isn't even a significant form of income at the big state systems and the prestigious private schools. It costs vastly more than they charge, even with no financial aid. Most of the money comes from donations, endowment growth, and the graduate engineering schools (a third of MIT's yearly income is from patent licenses).