Making college pay off

Under financial pressure, many schools have already farmed out the teaching of classes to low-paid adjuncts who have no job security and often no benefits.

This approach could be extended to administration, replacing salaried employees with low-paid “adjunct administrators” to handle routine functions. Many in the corporate world have reaped considerable savings by outsourcing back-office functions, and there is no reason this approach can’t work in higher education. (If U.S. News & World Report wants to improve its widely cited college rankings, it might start by giving schools credit for leaner administration.)

Another reform that would be useful at both public and private institutions is budget transparency. University finances are notoriously Byzantine, and administrators generally like it that way. But change is afoot here too.

Several years ago, the state of Oregon launched a website, updated daily, that shows where every state dollar is spent. The result: Anyone can see how much Oregon’s higher-education system is spending on things like travel, instruction and athletics. This is the sort of transparency that taxpayers should demand from public universities—and perhaps even from private universities that receive significant amounts of public money, as nearly all do.