There is perhaps no better indication of the pickle higher ed finds itself in than this: Even as the online education freight train bears down on universities’ business models, they are still spending millions bloating their administrative staff to previously unheard-of levels:
The number of Purdue administrators has jumped 54 percent in the past decade—almost eight times the growth rate of tenured and tenure-track faculty. “We’re here to deliver a high-quality education at as low a price as possible,” says [faculty senate chairman J. Paul] Robinson. “Why is it that we can’t find any money for more faculty, but there seems to be an almost unlimited budget for administrators?”
Purdue is among the U.S. colleges layering up at the top at a time when budgets are tight, students are amassing record debt, and tuition is skyrocketing. U.S. Department of Education data show that Purdue is typical: At universities nationwide, employment of administrators jumped 60 percent from 1993 to 2009, 10 times the growth rate for tenured faculty. “Administrative bloat is clearly contributing to the overall cost of higher education,” says Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas. In a 2010 study, Greene found that from 1993 to 2007, spending on administration rose almost twice as fast as funding for research and teaching at 198 leading U.S. universities.
Purdue’s president has defended the administrative growth, arguing that new administrators are needed to keep up with grants and to market the school to out-of-state students, who pay twice the amount as in-state residents. Witness the relentless, circular logic inflating the higher ed bubble: We need to raise tuition in order to pay top-dollar for marketing gurus who will lure in more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition rates.
The good news, however, is that this cannot last. One thing to remember: much of the college executive bloat is the direct result of an ever increasing government presence in and regulation of American higher education. Smaller administrations more closely focused on supporting teaching and real research: moving in that direction would help more colleges and universities become, as they like to say on campus, “sustainable.”