‘Investor’s Business Daily’ Calls Attention to Bloated Higher Ed Administrations

By on August 10, 2011

More signs of higher education’s administrative-industrial complex comes from Investor’s Business Daily, whose analysis shows that—no surprise, if you’re a regular Torch reader—the ranks of higher education administrators has swelled at a rate higher than that of either faculty or students in the past 20 years. 
IBD reports:

An IBD analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 1989-2009 the number of administrative personnel at four- and two-year institutions grew 84%, from about 543,000 to over 1 million.

By contrast, the number of faculty increased 75%, from 824,000 to 1.4 million, while student enrollment grew 51%, from 13.5 million to 20.4 million.

The disparity was worse at public universities and colleges, where personnel in administration rose 71%, faculty 58% and student enrollment 40%.

IBD‘s analysis follows in the path of a Goldwater Institute report on the same subject last year. As Azhar wrote then (and as Reason‘s Nick Gillespie notes as well in his write-up of IBD‘s article), "[B]etween 1993 and 2007, the number of administrators for every 100 college students increased by 39 percent, while the number of professors and researchers for every 100 students rose by a comparatively small 18 percent during the same period."

IBD also notes that "One reason administration at public institutions has grown faster may be that bureaucracies tend to expand their staff and programs over time, regardless of need." This I find wholly believable. When an excessive number of administrators are added to university payrolls and given dominion over students’ social lives, the ways they attempt to justify their presence are quite often counterproductive. Indeed, we’ve seen it in action at FIRE numerous times, with mid-level administrators nosing their way into students’ private lives and encounters, frequently out of the misguided belief that their adult students aren’t capable of hashing disagreements out among themselves.

IBD also quotes Daniel Bennet of the Center for College Affodability and Productivity, who tells them that "In order to comply with the government’s requirements, colleges need to employ a staff that is responsible for providing the multiple state and federal agencies with compliance reports and data." Recent history would seem to bear this remark out as well; the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights’ (OCR’s) April 4 "Dear Colleague" letter on the adjudication of sexual harassment and sexual assault on campus all but guarantees that universities will add more Title IX and student conduct officers. What’s worse, fear of running afoul of federal policy and putting federal funding at risk makes it quite likely that these administrators will further muck up the current situation, in which students are routinely prosecuted under overbroad and unconstitutional "harassment" policies.

Investors Business Daily‘s focus, of course, is on how swelling administrative ranks factors into why college tuition has kept climbing at such a relentless pace. Undoubtedly, as there are now roughly as many administrators as faculty patrolling the campuses, it has been a factor. Though keeping tuition costs manageable is beyond the scope of FIRE’s mission, we do caution students to ask what they’re getting in return when college can cost upwards of $50,000 per year. Academia’s swollen administrative ranks—and the hypertension-inducing actions of the administrators disproportionately collecting student tuition dollars—strongly suggests that universities’ priorities are out of whack.