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Winter for Higher-Ed
Admin Hiring in Higher Ed: How Many Is Too Many?

College enrollment may be plateauing, but that hasn’t stopped the growth in university administrative positions. They increased 28 percent between 2000 and 2012, according to a report released by the Delta Cost Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that conducts research on college finances. And they have been increasing for the past two decades.

The number of faculty members per administrator also decreased by 40 percent. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the ratio of faculty members to administrative professionals is now about 2.5 to 1. Some faculty are calling on universities to reprioritize:

“You see it on every campus—an increase in administration and a decrease in full-time faculty, and an increase in the use of part-time faculty,” said Howard J. Bunsis, a professor of accounting at Eastern Michigan University and chair of the American Association of University Professors’ Collective Bargaining Congress, “It’s not what it should be. What’s broken in higher ed is the priorities, and it’s been broken for a long time.” […]

At what point,” [Professor Robert Martin] said, “does that ratio of nonacademic staff to tenured faculty become completely untenable?”

This study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that colleges have been enlarging their administrative staffs at the expense of their core mission of education. We’ve already seen how the growth of administrative bureaucracies and non-classroom spending more generally are driving up tuition costs. As enrollment plateaus and students become more price-conscious, schools will have little choice but to reform or face extinction.

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  • DirtyJobsGuy

    If you look at most University Departments (even highly technical ones) it’s Profs, one or two administrators/secretaries, a few lab managers/tech staff. This has been pretty stable since I was in school 40 years ago. The admissions, compliance, financial aid/etc., buildings and grounds staff, development etc. have all grown tremendously. Long ago the bursar simply was a bank teller that took money and gave receipts. Now it is a huge system approaching mid size bank complexity. (Think GM and GM Finance). The campus IT network has grown a lot, but it should have reduced costs not increased them much. Interestingly few schools have a campus infirmary anymore since I guess compliance and liability costs are way too high. The insane privacy rules have really added costs to the areas that should be simplest (bursar and registrar).

    The rest I think is the need to differentiate what for most students is a very commodity product. If you are going for your basic BA in Psychology, Poly Sci or Business (at least 50% of many schools) the quality of the program is not top of most students list. So fancy dorms, gyms, recreation/entertainment are things admissions/development worry about a lot and all cost money and staff time. At the top, PR and endowment management require constant attention to trendy news and perception.

    The bottom line is to really revamp both the need and the quality of the academic programs for the average non-academic oriented student. If they feel they need to come to the school for the academics, the rest of the costly items can be reduced.

  • Kavanna

    Yes, go back 20+ years. These trends started around 1990 and have led to an explosion of costs. But it’s one of the main factors destroying the value of higher education, even as tuition keeps rising (three times faster than general prices).

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