Administrative Bloat in Higher Ed

Runaway administrative costs are major reason that higher ed costs are increasing without let-up, concludes a new report by the Goldwater Institute. States the report:

Enrollment at America’s leading universities has been increasing dramatically, rising nearly 15 percent between 1993 and 2007. But unlike almost every other growing industry, higher education has not become more efficient. Instead, universities now have more administrative employees and spend more on administration to educate each student. In short, universities are suffering from “administrative bloat,” expanding the resources devoted to administration significantly faster than spending on instruction, research and service.

Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student increased by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent.

The good news for the Old Dominion is that some of Virginia’s public universities were the least prone to administrative bloat. In an appendix, the report lists the performance of major universities over the past 10 years, ranking them by the percentage change in administrative positions per 100 students. At the top of the list of 196 universities (as in, the one that showed the least growth in bureaucracy), was Virginia Commonwealth University. The University of Virginia belongs on the honor roll as well.

Sayeth the report:

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) experienced a 75 percent decline in administrative employees per student. … In 1993, the university had an above-average rate of 12.0 full-time administrators per 100 students, but by 2007 that number had dropped to 3.0. … This decline was achieved in part because VCU increased its enrollment by 45.1 percent between 1993 and 2007, much faster than the average enrollment increase of 14.5 percent. But unlike other institutions, VCU spread its fixed cost of administration over a larger base as it gained more students.

Give credit to former VCU President Eugene Trani, who presided over the university during its period of unprecedented growth. Kudos, too, to former UVa President John Casteen, who retired last month.

On the other hand, the leadership at George Mason University and the College of William & Mary have some ‘splaining to do. There may be legitimate reasons for the apparent bureaucratic bloat, but I would like to know what they are.

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8 responses to “Administrative Bloat in Higher Ed”

  1. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Damn Good Data!

    EMR really likes it when Jim Bacon digs up some good numbers.

    Keep up the good work…

    No empty pigeon holes here. There are real fat pigeons in these holes.


  2. GMU as a whole is growing a lot faster than UVA. You would expect its adminstration to grow faster as well.

  3. Larry G Avatar

    is this a problem for govt to solve or the private sector?

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Does not Multi-Headed Snake ever read anything before he jump in to contradict and belittle?

    VCU grew faster the GMU but is first not last.

    VCU as Mr. Gooze points out in the next post has other problems but they score well here.

    That said, I suspect there is something wrong with the GMU numbers — perhaps counting research staff as admin?


  5. Anonymous Avatar

    I would guess it is because GMU's satellite haven't grown into legitimate campuses yet. In other words, they are stuck with staff at branch campuses that are hardly utilized.

    A lot of people I know are under the impression GMU has a larger student population than it really has because of the extra campuses

  6. Did I say anything about vcu?

    Do you read anything I write before you jump in to attempt to insult me?

    For the record, I considered the possibility of such an error. I only know that GMU was tiny when I moved here and UVA was well established. However, if the bloat data was for only a short period, then the gist of AZAs complaint would be correct: I made an invalid and incorrect comparison.

    He is wrong in assuming I did so to insult or contradict anyone.

  7. Groveton Avatar

    1993 to 2007 …

    "ranking them by the percentage change in administrative positions per 100 students.".

    So, it's a "heads on heads" comparison? In other words, wage inflation is taken out of the equation.

    So, in a fourteen year period when PC usage exploded, the internet became pervasive and other technologies like cell phones proliferated … you think a real growth in administration of 1% or 7% is good? Even with the growth in students of 15%?

    Jim, I wish I worked for you.

    I could oversee an almost negligent level of General & Administrative cost growth and be told, "good job".

    These public universities are held to a very low level of performance expectations. We should demand better. And those demands start with our representatives in the General Assembly.

  8. Yes, but look what they have to put up with.

    Like being sued because womens sports were played before the mens game.

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