I loved my years at Princeton and have contributed to Annual Giving every year for 50 years. I will also leave a portion of my estate to Princeton when I die. Nonetheless, I am not blind to her warts.
I once heard a talk by C.N. Parkinson explaining Parkinson’s laws. One was: “In any organization, administration expands without limit.” Where there were a modest number of deans and administrative personnel in 1960, there are now multiple deans, assistant deans, and a battalion of accountants and administrative personnel. Each receives a salary and benefits at considerable annual cost.
Tuition in 1960 was about $800/year, or about 15 percent of the median U.S. annual income. In 2015, tuition was about $43,000/year, or about 75 percent of the median household income. The compound growth rate over this interval is 7.2 percent! Unabated, this will lead to “a tyranny of exponential functions” where in 2040 a college education will cost approximately $1 million, and in 2065 it will run $5 million! These numbers seem absurd, but annual college expenses over $50,000/year would have seemed preposterous in 1960. What to do?
I believe all universities need to limit costs to avoid pricing themselves out of the market. How many deans, assistant deans, and administrators are essential to the operation of a great university? When I look back on my time at Princeton, I remember four wonderful professors who helped make my career possible. I do not remember a single administrator.