In a characteristically insightful USA Today column, Glenn Harlan Reynolds (a.k.a. Instapundit) takes aim at perhaps the biggest single obstacle to higher ed reform today: administrators. After first noting the high salaries of some university presidents—high is charitable; doubtlessly were these the salaries of private-sector CEOs, faculty at those same universities would deride them as ‘obscene’—that have recently been in the news, Reynolds trains his lens on the wider problem:
But while the over-generous compensation of universities’ CEOs is what gets the press attention, it’s not the biggest problem. Rather, the drastic cost increases associated with higher education stem mostly from lower levels of administration. For every highly paid president, universities are afflicted with scores of lower-level administrators, often earning in the six figures, who get far less attention. And each of those administrators, of course, has a fiefdom stocked with lower-paid, but more numerous, administrators and secretaries.
How bad has it gotten? Well, we’ve reached the point at which many, probably most, universities have more administrators than they have teaching faculty.
At California Polytechnic University-Pomona, for instance, the number of administrators grew 221% from 1975 to 2008. Administrators now outnumber faculty at that school 12,183 to 12,019. In 2010, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor employed 49% more full-time administrative and professional staff than full-time faculty. Nationwide, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at leading universities grew by 39% between 1993 and 2007, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research, or service grew only 18%, according to the Goldwater Institute.
This isn’t so much the tail wagging the dog as a tail that has grown as big as the dog—a good sign that it’s cancerous, and probably needs to be removed for the health of your dog. Few things would help students so much, or harm the core functions of education so little, as a 50% across the board cut in higher ed bureaucracy costs.
Moreover, the obscene (and here that term is appropriate) bloat in higher ed bureaucrats does not just represent an inappropriate use of funds: it actually drives the spiraling cost of education to begin with. The link between federal mandates, federal funds, and grotesque cost inflation for administrators is one of the worst “iron triangles” in American public life. As Reynold’s piece suggests, each of those elements is now coming under increasing scrutiny.