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August 19, 2010

Why So Many Administrators?

I've often heard professors complain about a curious inverse pattern taking place on their campuses. Classrooms and office spaces for teachers seem to be getting harder to obtain, while administrative offices and buildings keep proliferating.

An important report by Jay Greene sheds light on it. It bears the title "Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for High Costs in Higher Education." Greene collected data from the U.S. Department of Education on enrollments, costs, and personnel, including figures for employees who fall under the category "Administration."

The major findings begin with costs and the student population:

-----From 1993 to 2007, the price of (inflation-adjusted) tuition climbed by 66.7 percent at the top 198 universities.
-----During the same years, enrollments in them grew by 14.5 percent (3.64 million to 4.17 million).

They conclude with changes in university personnel broken down by those working in administrative jobs and those engaged in teaching, research, and service.

-----From 1993 to 2007, "the number of full-time administrators per 100 students . . . increased by 39.3 percent" (6.8 administrators per 100 students to 9.4 administrators per 100 students)
-----During the same years, "the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only increased by 17.6 percent" (6 per 100 students to 7 per 100 students)

In sum, Greene writes, "most leading universities are increasing their administrative employment and expenditures much faster than instructional employment or expenditures." Indeed, while instruction has seen expenditures rise 39.3 percent (per student), administration has seen expenditures rise 61.2 percent (per student).

At UC-Davis, for example, the number of full-time administrators jumped 318 percent, while "the university actually reduced its full-time instructional, research, and service staff by 4.5 percent."

Overall, only 13 universities reduced administrative spending per student (Greene salutes Michigan as a "model for how to stem bloat"), while two dozen more than doubled administrative spending. The report singles out a primary cause for the rising inefficiency of the system: government subsidies. "We need to stop feeding the beast," he urges, arguing that the only way to bring costs closer to the efficient delivery of education is to stop the "vicious cycle" of tuitions rising, government support rising, tuition rising, government support rising . . .

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