The Perfect Place To Cut College Costs: Take A Lot Off The Administrative Top

By Amy Alkon


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The Perfect Place To Cut College Costs: Take A Lot Off The Administrative Top
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, whose new book is The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, has a column up about tuition bloat and the administrative bloat that contributes greatly to it at USA Today. Colleges have reined in spending on instruction but found the money to employ more and more administrators and staffers — a rate of increase twice as fast as the growth in the number of students:

A simple stroll through most campuses will underscore this change. The number of buildings devoted to administration is much greater than in past years. Priorities show in other ways, too: While more and more actual teaching is outsourced to low-paid adjuncts who lack job security or, often, benefits, the work of administration never seems to be outsourced this way. Who ever heard of an “adjunct administrator?”

At many schools, administrators now outnumber teaching faculty, often by significant margins. According to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, “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.”

And according to a 2010 study by the Goldwater Institute, administrative bloat is the largest driver of high tuition costs. Using Department of Education figures, the study found administration growing more than twice as fast as instruction: “In terms of growth, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities increased by 39.3% between 1993 and 2007, while the number of employees engaged in teaching research or service only increased by 17.6%.”

Reynolds notes possible market challenges to the administrative bloat:

The biggest challenges facing overpriced and bloated institutions will come from technology and the market. With lower-priced alternatives appearing online just as buyer resistance to increased tuition is taking off, colleges must adapt. Purdue University President Mitchell Daniels remarked recently, “Why, in 10 or 15 years, will students still find it wise to pay lots of money to go and live somewhere for four or more years, when a host of competitors are offering to bring them excellent teachers and instruction in the inexpensive comfort of their own homes?”

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