At the University of Michigan, the cost of tuition, fees, housing, meals, books, supplies, and other miscellaneous charges for an in-state resident exceeds $34,000. The price tag doubles for non-resident students, at $73,000. What explains these astronomical costs that put Michigan out of reach for many prospective students?
One factor is administrative bloat.
In a new Heritage Foundation report, we document that the University of Michigan is a national leader in one administrative category in particular: diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). After reviewing publicly available information on websites at 65 major universities, we discovered that DEI-dedicated personnel typically overwhelm other higher-education staffing priorities.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the University of Michigan, which listed 163 administrators, staffers, graduate students and interns focused on promoting DEI. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion boasts a staff of 19, led by a vice provost for equity and inclusion who is supported by three assistant vice provosts.
Five individuals were listed in the Multicultural Center; 24 staff the Center for the Education of Women, and the LGBTQ Spectrum Center employs 12 people. We also documented 18 people working for Multiethnic Student Affairs and another 14 at the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives.
The effort to catalogue Michigan personnel with DEI responsibilities was like peeling back an onion. Beyond these central office and identity-focused units, we found additional layers of bureaucracy at the college and departmental levels, where it was common to find associate deans of diversity, DEI managers and DEI directors.
The total number of DEI personnel at the UM is more than double the number of history professors and more than 14 times the number of personnel tasked with providing services to students with disabilities—a service that is required by federal law.
Legislators, donors and tuition-payers concerned about the cost of education at Michigan would do well to scrutinize the size and cost of campus DEI initiatives. Student surveys give reason to believe that this extensive infrastructure may not be accomplishing its goals.
It is common for universities to survey students about whether they perceive the campus environment as being inclusive and welcoming. Whether responses to these surveys differ by race is often of great interest to university leaders.
We reviewed climate surveys at several universities in our sample. One might expect students at universities with larger DEI staffs—like Michigan—to report a more positive, welcoming environment. In general, that’s not what we observed.
Instead, a 2016 campus climate survey administered by the University of Michigan found that 72% of the school’s White students were satisfied or very satisfied with campus climate. Among minority students, satisfaction dropped to 62% for undergraduates and 55% for graduate students.
In comparison, the climate responses for a survey conducted around the same time at Mississippi State University—an institution with only 12 DEI personnel—were, in fact, more positive. Overall, 72% of Mississippi State students agreed that they felt accepted, respected, and appreciated by students different from them. Some 68% of African American students agreed with the same question. Among Hispanic students, the figure was 78%, even higher than the overall figure.
The surplus of DEI staff for Michigan relative to Mississippi State did not translate into more positive climate responses, which should be alarming for boards of higher education and university trustees across the country.
Where is the evidence that DEI resources are being deployed effectively? Are large DEI staff expenditures worthy of taxpayer subsidies? And do DEI programs offer a true diversity of viewpoints?
Universities—especially those that are publicly funded—should be welcoming to all students. But we suspect that reducing administrative bloat and reducing costs would do more to promote college access than the best efforts of any well-meaning diversity administrator.
This piece originally appeared in The Detroit News