Friday, October 16, 2009

Bureaucrat U

Daniel L. Bennett, administrative director at the Center for College Affordability & Productivity in Washington, D.C. This article was published in Forbes Magazine, July 13, 2009 and has been condensed for this blog.

Pay the teachers, not the administrators.

College tuition increased by 6.6% a year over the past decade, a rate that is approximately 2.4 times that of inflation. One big cause: the bloating of university bureaucracies. Between 1997 and 2007 the administrative and support staffs at colleges expanded by 4.7% a year, double the rate of enrollment growth. The burgeoning army of college bureaucrats defends this extraordinary growth as necessary to provide consumer-oriented students with an expanded breadth of noninstructional services. Yet this obfuscates the underlying mission of colleges to produce and disseminate knowledge. It is time for higher education to go on a diet.

The ballooning of college administration has resulted in a sharp decline in labor productivity at colleges during a period of technological advancement that has improved productivity in most other industries. It has also occurred at a time when students are getting less for their money: Instruction has shifted from full-time professors to underpaid and overworked adjunct faculty. Three-fourths of new instructor jobs created over the past 20 years have been part-time positions. If the employment trends of the last decade are sustained, then administrative employees will outnumber instructors at four-year colleges by 2014.

Perusing the careers section of the Chronicle of Higher Education recently, I noticed that Georgia Southern University has an opening for a recreation therapist, the University of Florida an opening for a director of multicultural and diversity affairs, and the University of Maryland, College Park openings for a coordinator of off-campus student involvement and a director of fraternity and sorority life. Will educational outcomes improve with the addition of positions such as these? I fervently doubt it.

Trends in spending make it clear that institutional priorities have shifted, as resources have been reallocated from classroom instruction to paper pushing. According to a recent report from the Delta Cost Project that uses U.S. Department of Education data, between 1995 and 2006 spending growth on student services and administration outpaced growth in expenditure on instruction by a multiple of 2 at the private research colleges, 1.75 at public research colleges and 3.2 at public master's degree granting colleges.

Did you know that an academic dean at a doctoral institution receives a median salary of $190,000 (plus generous fringe benefits) or that the median salary of an assistant dean is above $116,000? The College & University Professional Association for Human Resources found that last year senior administrators recorded a third consecutive year of 4% pay increases and a twelfth consecutive year of pay increases above inflation. Nearly 10% of the 425,000 administrative and support staff employees at 272 research institutions earned a salary above $100,000 last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Higher education is engaged in a spree of empire-building that will be a burden on the public purse. The recession has provided some restraints on cost-increasing behavior at colleges; many schools have announced unpaid furloughs and staffing cuts. This is a good start, but my guess is that the train will pick up steam again once economic recovery stabilizes.

All we need are students and parents willing to vote with their feet when it comes to choosing a college according to value. This can happen only if more information about colleges is made publicly available in a digestible manner, something that the establishment vehemently opposes.

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