April 24, 2009

University budgets: where's the money going?

Many of us have been wondering why higher education has become so expensive, even though faculty duties have changed little and compensation has remained flat or worse when adjusted for inflation. Here is some hard data:

Over the last two decades, colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff while enrollment increased only 40 percent, according to a new analysis of government data by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center.

During the same period, the staff of full-time instructors, or equivalent personnel, rose about 50 percent, while the number of managers increased slightly more than 50 percent.

There has been a dramatic shift from full-time to part-time hires among the instructors, however, which is noted later in the article.
The data, based on United States Department of Education filings from more than 2,782 colleges, come from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession prompted many colleges to freeze their hiring.
The line between "managers" and "support staff" may not be the most conceptually useful distinction here; a lot of the "support" positions would clearly fall into the administrative bloat category:
The growth in support staff included some jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, like environmental sustainability officers and a broad array of information technology workers. The support staff category includes many different jobs, like residential-life staff, admissions and recruitment officers, fund-raisers, loan counselors and all the back-office staff positions responsible for complying with the new regulations and reporting requirements college face.
From the NY Times. Big question for me is if there might be room for a counter-trend of back-to-basics in higher education. What if one were to found (or re-found) a college without all the 2009 bells and whistles, turning back the clock thirty years or so in terms of both administrative structure and tuition rates?

Posted by David on April 24, 2009 10:01 AM


Every few years someone tries that back to basic's approach... The university/college usually fails when it reaches accreditation pre-qualification because... they need all the bureaucrats to manage that, and to manage the government issues. I was a university with no IRB once... no IRB, no research office, means... not federal research money.

Posted by: jeremy hunsinger on April 24, 2009 3:33 PM
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