Administrative Expansion and Faculty Contraction: Not a New Story

This article on the inordinate growth of higher ed administration was getting a lot of Twitter action yesterday though it’s from February. We wrote about it back then (“Who’s a Cost Center?“), but since it’s circulating again as a part of the conversation about the Starbucks tuition program, here it is again, in case you missed it. The report that spawned the article was done by the Delta Cost Project.

Personally, I’m REAL skeptical of buying into any claim Richard Vedder makes, but the interesting thing about this article is the broad array of strange bedfellows it draws on as sources.

The reported trend, assuming it holds up in the face of scrutiny, is unsurprising for several reasons. The regulatory environment for higher education has changed and the constellation of external organizations colleges and universities have to interface with has increased. 

The article notes with irony that that administrative growth has happened even while there’s been a shift from full time tenure track faculty to save money. What the author misses is the fact that part-time faculty require more supervision; the net effect is to save money from instructional budget but spend non-instructional money to supervise – that’s a predictable shift in resources.

But an even bigger part of the story, I think, is that administrators create the need for more administrators. One might imagine that many hands make for light work, but it’s the opposite. Anytime you hire a high level administrator you create new reporting relationships and the incentives are for the new person to grow her staff and budget. Administrators are not usually rewarded for thinning their part of the organization (except when it’s faculty).

By comparison, in the American system, hiring a new professor rarely has any long term effect on staff size. In exceptional circumstances, it means the hiring of an administrative assistant; more often it means brining in grants. But in any case instructional lines are generally part of a pool – a provost or dean can potentially take back a line when an incumbent leaves. Administrative lines are not usually treated that way. In fact, because administrative positions acquire reports and have clerical staff and are plugged into all manner of bureaucratic processes, when an incumbent leaves, replacement is almost certain.

Finally, no administrator ever succeeds by solving the problem she was hired to solve. If we hire a new dean of, say, sophomore retention, that administrator will survive long term not by solving sophomore problems but by discovering more of them. That pattern can be found across the institution. No one makes them self redundant. 

from HuffPost College

New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators

New England Center for Investigative Reporting
By Jon Marcus

The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures.

The disproportionate increase in the number of university staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in more recent years, and slowed only slightly since the start of the economic downturn, during which time colleges and universities have contended that a dearth of resources forced them to sharply raise tuition.

In all, from 1987 until 2011-12—the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 every working day, according to the analysis of federal figures, by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science research group the American Institutes for Research.

“There’s just a mind-boggling amount of money per student that’s being spent on administration,” said Andrew Gillen, a senior researcher at the institutes. “It raises a question of priorities.”

Universities have added these administrators and professional employees even as they’ve substantially shifted classroom teaching duties from full-time faculty to less-expensive part-time adjunct faculty and teaching assistants, the figures show.

“They’ve increased their hiring of part-time faculty to try and cut costs,” said Donna Desrochers, a principal researcher at the Delta Cost Project, which studies higher-education spending. “Yet other factors that are going on, including the hiring of these other types of non-academic employees, have undercut those savings.”

Part-time faculty and teaching assistants now account for half of instructional staffs at colleges and universities, up from one-third in 1987, the figures show.

During the same period, the number of administrators and professional staff has more than doubled. That’s a rate of increase more than twice as fast as the growth in the number of students.

It’s not possible to tell exactly how much the rise in administrators and professional employees has contributed to the increase in the cost of tuition and fees, which has also almost doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1987 at four-year private, nonprofit universities and colleges, according to the College Board. Those costs have also nearly tripled at public four-year universities—a higher price rise than for any other sector of the economy in that period, including healthcare.

But critics say the unrelenting addition of administrators and professional staffs can’t help but to have driven this steep increase.

At the very least, they say, the continued hiring of nonacademic employees belies university presidents’ insistence that they are doing everything they can to improve efficiency and hold down costs.

“It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” said Richard Vedder, an economist and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

“I wouldn’t buy a used car from a university president,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’re making moves to cut costs,’ and mention something about energy-efficient lightbulbs, and ignore the new assistant to the assistant to the associate vice provost they just hired.”

The figures are particularly dramatic at private, nonprofit universities, whose numbers of administrators alone have doubled, while their numbers of professional employees have more than doubled.

Rather than improving productivity as measured by the ratio of employees to students, private universities have seen their productivity decline, adding 12 employees per 1,000 full-time students since 1987, the federal figures show.

“While the rest of the economy was shrinking overhead, higher education was investing heavily in more overhead,” said Robert Martin, an economist at Centre College in Kentucky who studies university finance who said staffing per students is a valid way to judge efficiency improvements or declines.

The ratio of nonacademic employees to faculty has also doubled. There are now two nonacademic employees at public and two and a half at private universities and colleges for every one full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty.

“In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs,” analysts at the financial management firm Bain & Company wrote in a 2012 white paper for its clients and others about administrative spending in higher education.

Universities and university associations blame the increased hiring on such things as government regulations and demands from students and their families—including students who arrive unprepared for college-level work—for such services as remedial education, advising, and mental-health counseling.

“All of those things pile up, and contribute to this increase,” said Dan King, president of the American Association of University Administrators.

“I think there’s legitimate criticism” of the growth in hiring of administrators and other nonacademic employees, said King. “At the same time, you can’t lay all of the responsibility for that on the universities.”

There are “thousands” of regulations governing the distribution of financial aid alone, he said. “And probably every college or university that’s accredited, they’ve got at least one person with a major portion of their time dedicated to that, and in some cases whole office staffs. These aren’t bad things to do, but somebody’s got to do them.”

Since 1987, universities have also started or expanded departments devoted to marketing, diversity, disability, sustainability, security, environmental health, recruiting, technology, and fundraising, and added new majors and graduate and athletics programs, satellite campuses, and conference centers.

Some of these, they say—such as beefed-up fundraising and marketing offices—pay for themselves, and sustainability efforts save money through energy efficiency.

Others “often show up in student referenda, to build or add services,” said George Pernsteiner, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “The students vote for them. Students and their families have asked for more, and are paying more to get it.”

Pressure to help students graduate more quickly—or at all—has also driven the increase in professional employees “to try to more effectively serve the students who are coming in today,” Pernsteiner said.

But naysayers point out that the doubling of administrative and professional staffs doesn’t seem to have improved universities’ performance. Since 2002, the proportion of four-year bachelor’s degree-seeking students who graduate within even six years, for instance, has barely inched up, from 55 percent to 58 percent, U.S. Department of Education figures show.

“If we have these huge spikes in student services spending or in other professional categories, we should see improvements in what they do, and I personally haven’t seen that,” Gillen said.

Martin said it’s true that adding services beyond teaching and research is fueling the growth of campus payrolls. But he said universities don’t have to provide those services themselves. “They can outsource them, the way that corporations do.”

To provide such things as security and counseling, said Martin, “You can hire outside firms, on a contract basis with competitive bidding. All these activities are a distraction from what the institution is supposed to be doing.”

Universities and colleges continued adding employees even after the beginning of the economic downturn, though at a slightly slower rate, the federal figures show.

“Institutions have said that they were hurting, so I would have thought that staffing overall would go down,” Desrochers said. “But it didn’t.”

There’s also been a massive hiring boom in central offices of public university systems and universities with more than one campus, according to the figures. The number of employees in central system offices has increased six-fold since 1987, and the number of administrators in them by a factor of more than 34.

One example, the central office of the California State University System, now has a budget bigger than those of three of the system’s 23 campuses.

“None of them have reduced campus administrative burdens at all,” said King, who said he is particularly frustrated by this trend. “They’ve added a layer of bureaucracy, and in 95 percent of the cases it’s an unnecessary bureaucracy and a counterproductive one.”

Centralization has been promoted as a way to reduce costs, but Vedder points out that it has not appeared to reduce the rate of hiring of administrators and professional staffs on campus—or of incessant spikes in tuition.

“It’s almost Orwellian,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’ll save money if we centralize.’ Then they hire a provost or associate provost or an assistant business manager in charge of shared services, and then that person hires an assistant, and you end up with more people than you started with.”

In higher education, “Everyone now is a chief,” he said. “And there are a lot fewer Indians.”

This story was prepared by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news center based at Boston University and WGBH Radio/TV.

See Also

Scott Carlson. “Administrator Hiring Drove 28% Boom in Higher-Ed Work Force, Report Says,” Chronicle of Higher Education, February 5, 2014

Why Take a Detour…

…on the road from youth to career?

Another story about “alternatives” to college.  Those of us who toil in the fields of conventional academe don’t much need to worry about direct competition here; our “product” and the one described here are not direct substitutes yet. But the ideologies, if you will, expressed and implied and strange-bed-fellowed here, should give us pause. Some snippets:
  • “‘It is like a university,’ he told me, ‘built by industry.'”
  • “… many disadvantaged students are left at the mercy of unscrupulous degree mills”
  • “Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, Harry J. Holzer of Georgetown University urges states to provide incentives to universities to steer students toward higher-wage occupations”
  • “… the evidence so far suggests that online education may do better in giving low-income students a leg up if it is directly tied to work. And companies, rather than colleges, may be best suited to shape the curriculum.”
  • “It may not offer all the advantages of a liberal arts education, but it could offer a plausible path to young men and women who may not have the time, money or skill to make it through a four-year or even a two-year degree.”
  • “… an alternative approach to the ‘four years and done’ model of higher education, splitting it into chunks that students can take throughout their lives.”
We need to do some hard thinking (and actual investigating) about what “all the advantages of a liberal arts education” really are. It is simply not sufficient to yabber on about “critical thinking” and to be complacently certain that producing graduates who are cultivated sort of like we are is the be all and end all.
And, too, it’s not enough just to be against the “corporatization” or “vocation-alization” of higher education. We really do need to be rethinking curriculum in terms of the question “what kind of education will it turn out, say, 50 years from now to have been a good idea to get?” or “what education will really prepare a young person for the part of the 21st century that you and I won’t be around for?” 

From the New York Times

A Smart Way to Skip College in Pursuit of a Job
Udacity-AT&T ‘NanoDegree’ Offers an Entry-Level Approach to College

Could an online degree earned in six to 12 months bring a revolution to higher education?
This week, AT&T and Udacity, the online education company founded by the Stanford professor and former Google engineering whiz Sebastian Thrun, announced something meant to be very small: the “NanoDegree.”
At first blush, it doesn’t appear like much. For $200 a month, it is intended to teach anyone with a mastery of high school math the kind of basic programming skills needed to qualify for an entry-level position at AT&T as a data analyst, iOS applications designer or the like.
Yet this most basic of efforts may offer more than simply adding an online twist to vocational training. It may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream.
Intriguingly, it suggests that the best route to democratizing higher education may require taking it out of college.
“We are trying to widen the pipeline,” said Charlene Lake, an AT&T spokeswoman. “This is designed by business for the specific skills that are needed in business.”

A Model for "Career Preparation Across the Curriculum"

from AAC&U News…

Mapping a Path from Curriculum to Career: The Lynk Initiative at Mount Holyoke College

With the value of college increasingly being questioned as tuition continues to rise and the job market remains weak, how, asks Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella, “do we articulate the value of a liberal education in a compelling way to those outside of the academy?” At Mount Holyoke, a liberal arts college for women in Massachusetts, the answer was to build a bridge between the liberal arts curriculum and students’ careers, and to create a comprehensive college-wide infrastructure to support that bridge.

The new initiative, known as Lynk, encourages students to start thinking early about connections between their academic work and career aspirations. It offers support—in the form of advising, mentorship, and funding—to help students complete internships, research projects, or other experiential learning opportunities that will allow them to demonstrate and reflect on the various applications of their studies in the liberal arts and sciences. “You are forced to ask questions of yourself,” says Tatum Lindsay, a recent graduate with a degree in gender studies. “How do I get where I want to go, who can mentor me, how do I identify the next step? When you have a community of people helping you with that and challenging you, [those steps] become much clearer, and it emerges what you’re passionate about.”

Involving the Whole Campus

The Lynk program comprises four stages: 
  • goal setting, 
  • professional development, 
  • practical experience, and 
  • “the launch”—a series of symposiums and presentations at which students showcase what they have learned and reflect on their next steps. 
During each stage, students work with teachers and mentors from across the entire college, including the faculty, the career development center, and the college’s three academic centers: the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, the Weissman Center for Leadership, and the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives. Faculty and staff share advising roles and co-teach courses that prepare students to move out of the classroom into internships or other professional experiences. “We’ve created parallel structures so that Lynk is not any one department’s responsibility,” Pasquerella says.

But What Would We Do Without a Strategic Plan?

Interview in NYT with the author of the book I keep telling everyone to read.

See Also

(Not 95) Theses on General Education Reform, etc.

General Education reform has a long history in higher education of being a no-win zone. Correct that: in any given GenEd campaign there is often a player or group of players who manage to get something out of it (e.g., an administrator or administrator want-to-be who gets credit for shepherding the program through to approval (and to be fair, it’s probably good training) or a department that gets a influx of resources it will never lose (even when GE is next revised) or sometimes a group of faculty who have opted out of discipline-based work and now rise to institutional importance).
The kudos and benefits, though, are almost never dependent on whether the program actually works and there is never any accountability for problems associated with the diversion of time, energy, and resources required by the program.
I share the Camelot-esque urge to champion the life of the mind, to fight against the forces of mediocrity in the modern world, really educate our students for the 21st century, and just generally to work for a better tomorrow, but I’ve seen this windmill tilted at too many times not to offer some ideas, collected over the years, about GenEd revisions. Offered partly in the spirit of provocation and healthy debate, but mostly on the (naive) optimistic belief that it IS possible to do better at higher education reform than is usually the case. The problem is that the ruts in the road are deep ones indeed.
    1. Almost no one will ever select a college on the basis of a general education program unless the program is that there are no GE requirements.
    2. The process usually begins with someone saying “everyone knows the current system is broken and needs to be updated.” Ever was it so. Ever will it be.
    3. After the program is in place, students and faculty will invest a lot of time and energy “getting around the rules” to make individual educations make sense.
    4. GenEd gets revamped every decade or so. Neither the stuff of GenEd nor the nature of students really changes THAT much. Thus the “new” is mostly recapitulations and recombinations of old. 
    5. Where is cost-benefit analysis when you need it? How much goes into the process? How much does it cost to implement? What’s the outcome? Listen and you’ll hear that the value can’t be measured.
    1. GenEd is an introduction to the breadth of inquiry in the university?
    2. GenEd is a set of skills and areas of knowledge that every graduate should possess?
    3. GenEd should inculcate a set of values that specialized training in majors omit?
    4. GenEd is basic skills that are necessary to succeed in specialized training in majors?
    5. GenEd should inculcate ideas students need as citizen but not taught in the major?
    6. GenEd should insure that students do not graduate as narrow vocational specialists?
    7. GenEd should be material common to all/most majors to make education more efficient?
    1. The design of a GenEd program is an organizational process, not an intellectual one.
    2. GenEd rules shape/channel resources (enrollment, FTE, budget); much of the conversation is actually about that.
    3. No GE program worth doing will please all. A compromise no one opposes is likely crap. 
    4. Who is GenEd for? What is GenEd for? Who benefits? Who pays? Write the answers out.
    5. The problem with the current program is usually implementation, not concept.  “GE is a mess” is unhelpful starting point; it’s a mess because of implementation, and the same people will implement the new one so it likely will have the same implementation failures.
    6. Least Common Denominator is very weak conceptual foundation for GenEd. Be skeptical about “what EVERY student should have.”
    1. Many proposals for GenEd translate as (1) students should have my (our!) values (2) every student should study what I teach.
      • General rule: if it’s my pet peeve or my pet project, it’s not general education.
      • Leaders should discourage “my ‘baby’ is the be all and end all” talk. 
      • Perhaps a simple rule that you cannot advocate for your own area as part of GE.
      • Keep track of which disciplines’ are most certain their subject is essential.
    2. Alternatively, use bottom up approach. Ask each “major” to write down: “A student of X needs some W and Y as foundations for, extensions of, and complements to X.” Encourage inventive thinking. Then build on that database.
    1. Look to history: GenEd as contrasted with major course of study. 
    2. Liberal arts is not same as humanities and fine arts.
    3. How come it’s not a crisis that art students can’t do math?
    4. “The Core” and related terms mean different things in different institutional contexts. 
    5. The “outside the course” rhetoric in higher ed discourse is sort of “anti-professor.” 
    6. When did “community engagement” become a fundamental responsibility of educational institutions? Why did this happen? Ask questions; don’t take things for granted.
    1. Let’s be at a little skeptical about imposing morality/ideology via “requiring everyone to take a course on X.” Very hard to find examples in history of this working well.
    2. Best test of a GE concept might be thought experiment: would it work if not required? 
    3. All of the “values,” “mindsets,” “orientations,” etc. that one is inclined to require courses on because they are institutionally important should be a part of everything we teach. If not, then they are NOT actually institutionally important, you are just wishing they were.
    1. Nobody knows what critical thinking is. Perhaps start by figuring out what we mean by it.
    2. Ask anyone who says “it’s a problem that…” to explain how they know that it is a problem and how we could detect when it was not a problem anymore.
    3. Purge all documents of “red herrings” (things that might very well be true and good but which distract from matter at hand). For example “faculty need support for digital technologies and data management in the classroom” or “need to acknowledge how hard faculty already work blah blah blah.”
    4. Perhaps outlaw any sentence that included the phrase “we used to…”
    5. “Competencies” is a buzz word. Interrogate buzzwords; don’t parrot buzzwords.
    1. Arguments for foreign languages often amount to (1) other schools do it; or (2) it’s good for you (plus, usually, unsaid, “it was good for me”). Maybe, but, as champions of critical thinking, we should do better at motivating what would be a really big student and institutional investment and diversion of resources. 
    2. Studying a language or going on a study abroad may not provide “global literacy” – it often turns one into a fan of one country, region, language, etc. It may transcend localism, but it’s not necessarily “global” per se.
    3. Do students currently chose to take foreign languages? Have the foreign language departments managed to enroll to capacity? Find out why before trying to accomplish this with a requirement. 
    4. Ask why would we require, say, four semesters of this one of area of learning but not others?
    1. What is the actual evidence that things like “community engagement” are really something that we are not doing enough of? How do you know?
    2. The future of higher ed for small second tier institutions will be strongly based on transfer students. Almost all GenEd will of necessity be something we accept as already done as a part of the transfer articulation agreements. This is likely simply part of the physics of the future of higher education in the US for many schools.
    3. Every time someone suggests “X” is our core value, ask two things. First, does X really distinguish us from other places? Second, can we ethically have students on average incur $30k in debt for an education based on X? Is that what families sacrifice for?
    1. Is your accreditation agency dominated by people from institutions you admire?  Are its publications ones you look to for inspiration?  What good is likely to come from basing a curriculum on their concepts? The answer is one thing: it is a path to a “compromise” that would not be a mere medley of all the competing ideas we faculty have. This might be important, but be clear about it.
    2. Are you impressed by the ideas of the folks who are pushing assessment nationally? Do they strike you as the right sources of new GE ideas?
    3. Are the thought leaders from American K12 education who have started to work in higher ed space the ones you would turn to for ideas on improving college and university education?
    1. Institute multiple general education requirement schemes. See which ones students opt for. See which ones seem to deliver best results.
    2. Have a fully articulated general education program but don’t make it required. Can you persuade students it is a good idea.
    3. Structure your requirements as “do at least 4 of these 7 things” and keep track of what people do and engage in some serious research about why they make those choices.
    4. Provide a strict, cohort based option (you are given a schedule of GE courses when you start and the group takes them together over a few years) and see how many students sign up for it and what effects it has.

The "Competency" Bandwagon: Check Out the Full Itinerary

One of this decade’s fads in higher education is “competency-” or “proficiency-based” education. The discourse around it is littered with phrases and concepts that are seductive to the left-leaning progressive educator. Personalized, flexible, affordable alterna-tive, transcending hours in seats, students gain ownership of their degree, accountability, employable skills, real world, etc.  
This Inside Higher Ed piece raises one alternative take: does competency-based approach to curricula so fully buy into the student as consumer that it will eliminate the “off-rubric” experiences that might not be directly applicable to some skill but that might be the very stuff of growing up, seeing the world in a new way, and the transformation that education is really all about.
Another thing for those ready to jump on the competency bandwagon to think about is who is steering the train where. Ed reformers are skilled at generating strange-bedfellows in the audience for their ideas. I might like competencies as a way of motivating pedagogical innovation, but am I on-board with those who would design college curricula around the needs of corporate employers?


See Also

A Book Called "How College Works" by Two Authors Who Get It

My friends’ Chambliss and Takacs’ book How College Works (Harvard University Press 2014) has just come out (previous coverage in ). I worked on a small piece with Chambliss at the beginning of their Mellon funded research in assessment project many years ago and have followed along as the book took shape. It’s well written, well reasoned, and their’s is a perspective that does not delight the higher ed assessment industrial complex. That is, you will find it an interesting read if you work in the kind of institution I work in.


See also

(One of) The Most Interesting College(s) in America

What if Mills were organized into “five undergraduate schools… : School of Fine Arts, School of Natural Science, School of Social Institutions, School of Education and School of Language and Literature”?
What if it branded itself “one of America’s most interesting colleges”?
What if our general education program was simply to require that students “take at least half of her work outside the particular school in which she is majoring”?
What if we minimized the importance of marks and credits and instead required that “to earn a degree, a student must cover a definite educational area and must be able to demonstrate her complete understanding of the territory covered”?
What if we offered courses in Chinese language and literature?
What if we offered courses in which 5 or 7 professors (or maybe even ALL the professors in a division) collaborated to present material and in which large fractions of the student body enrolled?
What if we took advantage of our small size and instituted a “tutorial plan, adapted from the English
university system” in which “each entering student is assigned a tutor who, as ‘guide, philosopher and friend,’ takes a warm and continued interest in her progress”?  And may highly prepared and talented students could be “encouraged to set their own academic pace” while less prepared are coached on “how to make their efforts more effective” and reach the highest levels of achievement?
If it sounds new and exciting, be prepared for a let down.  This was Mills in 1935.

MOOCs are so 2012 but IS There Gold in Them Hills?

The first two chapters in the MOOC story have been written: heroic arrival and unbounded enthusiasm followed by disappointment and backlash.  I argued in Fall 2012 that for liberal arts colleges at least the real future is in what this article calls SPOCs (small private online classes).  I’ve experimented with this form both last year and this.  MOOCs are like the Apollo space program – the benefits were not in getting to the moon but in all the tools that smart people invented in order to get to the moon.

Entrepreneurship at Liberal Arts Colleges

From the Boston Globe


With no grades or majors, Hampshire College, the Amherst institution with an alternative approach to higher education, seems an unlikely breeding ground for aspiring capitalists.

But last week, the college announced the creation of a $1 million fund to encourage the “animal spirits” of would-be entrepreneurs among students and recent graduates. It’s called the Seed Fund for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and the college will allocate $200,000 a year over five years to fund ideas that may lead to successful ventures. The fund will be managed by a small group of students, who will decide which business pitches deserve financing.

“There’s no reason not to embrace entrepreneurship,” said Zilong Wang, who graduated from Hampshire in May, after creating a task force to examine creating a center for entrepreneurship at the school of 1,400 undergraduates. “With these structured resources, students will be empowered to take action.”

The $1 million fund is the gift of a foundation run by Michael Vlock, a venture capitalist and 1975 graduate of Hampshire, and his wife, Karen Pritzker, a member of the Pritzker family of Chicago, one the nation’s wealthiest families.