Show Me The Money

Could it be that some universities forgot to send along their monthly donation checks to the campaigns of Sen. Max S. Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa. Actually, I’ve no idea which university officials have donated to the respective campaigns of the gentlemen from Montana and Iowa. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Mr. Grassley, its senior Republican member, want to know how each university’s endowment is managed, including the cost of investing the assets and what role the institution’s governing board has in overseeing the money and how it is distributed.” The senators want to know the total cost of undergraduate tuition, including all fees, “both sticker and average, mean, and median” prices over the past 10 years. They also ask for the amount of tuition assistance that each college has provided to undergraduate students during the same period. College officials have 30 days to respond.

Did you just blink rapidly? Did a huge smile just spread across your face? Are you, like me, envisioning the look on the faces of the presidents of the 136 wealthiest colleges in the United States when they cracked open their copies of the letter from the senators? I image more than just a few uttered sentences that included the phrases “Sweet Jesus,” “Holy Moses,” and “Damn Buddha’s Eyes.” Who asks colleges to account for their endowments? Turns out lots of people do, and college and university officials routinely refuse to share the information with the public.

There are those within higher education who are claiming that the institutions simply don’t track the data requested by the senators. (Yes, that sound you hear is me guffawing). As if colleges don’t track how much an undergraduate education costs, and how much they charge for one.

The senators want to understand how the endowments are managed because they have this crazy idea that colleges and universities could, maybe, use their endowments to make college more affordable for students from middle- and lower-income families. The typical college spends about 4 percent of their endowment each year. At Harvard, of course, that’s 4 percent of $25 billion dollars. I’ll leave the exact math to the part-timers who teach it.

So, listen, I had this great idea that colleges could spend, say, one percent of their endowments annually on their part-time faculty for things like pro-rata wages, professional development and benefits. Why not join me in sending along the idea to our intrepid senatorial duo from the Finance Committee? To email Senator Baucus, click here. To email Senator Grassley, click here. Be sure to let the senators know how many students you teach, how much you earn per course, whether you have benefits, and what your college/university’s total endowment is at the moment.

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