College Guide


April 11, 2013 2:57 PM American Academic Priorities: More Bureaucrats!

By Daniel Luzer


American colleges cost students more and more every year to attend. At least part of the reason for this surely has to do with declining state support for public institutions of higher learning. But colleges also spend more money every year. Why is this?

It’s not professors, that’s for sure. According to a piece at Bloomberg Businessweek, colleges are hiring more and more administrators, people who teach no one, often have limited interaction with students, and exist solely to help “manage” the institutions:

At universities nationwide, employment of administrators jumped 60 percent from 1993 to 2009, 10 times the growth rate for tenured faculty. “Administrative bloat is clearly contributing to the overall cost of higher education,” says Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas. In a 2010 study, Greene found that from 1993 to 2007, spending on administration rose almost twice as fast as funding for research and teaching at 198 leading U.S. universities.
The bottom line: From 1993 to 2009, U.S. universities added bureaucrats 10 times faster than they added tenured faculty.

What do all of these associate vice presidents of things do anyway? No one really seems to know. As Benjamin Ginsberg wrote in this magazine two years ago:

The number of administrators and staffers on university campuses has increased so rapidly in recent years that often there is not enough work to keep all of them busy. To fill their time, administrators engage in a number of make-work activities. This includes endless rounds of meetings, mostly with other administrators, often consisting of reports from and plans for other meetings. For example, at a recent “president’s staff meeting” at an Ohio community college, eleven of the eighteen agenda items discussed by administrators involved plans for future meetings or discussions of other recently held meetings. At a gathering of the “Process Management Steering Committee” of a Midwestern community college, virtually the entire meeting was devoted to planning subsequent meetings by process management teams, including the “search committee training team,” the “faculty advising and mentoring team,” and the “culture team,” which was said to be meeting with “renewed energy.” The culture team was apparently also close to making a recommendation on the composition of a “Culture Committee.” Since culture is a notoriously abstruse issue, this committee may need to meet for years, if not decades, to unravel its complexities.

These are merely anecdotes, of course, but they’re telling.

There’s been a huge increase in the number of administrators employed by American colleges and universities in recent years. Has there been a corresponding increase in quality and effective evaluation (ostensively the purpose of bureaucratic oversight)?

What do professors need to do to get their colleges back? [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • RC on April 11, 2013 7:12 PM:

    Oooo,,,touching a sore spot with this one. At my own university, we have an "Associate VP for Equity and Outcomes." Looking at the administrative org chart just puts my blood pressure through the roof.

  • William Burns on April 12, 2013 9:04 AM:

    I recommend a series of meetings to define a process for the formation of a committee to establish recommendations for reducing administrative bloat.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 12, 2013 9:30 AM:

    I can only speak about my college, but....

    We just had a major overhaul when a new dean was selected to head the college. So there has been much shuffling of admins and re-organizing of... er... well... STUFF. And, of course, we all get the email announcements that So-and-So has been reassigned the New Associate Director of Yackity Smackity.

    As a low-level, relatively unimportant albeit essential-because-I-actually-interact-with-students staffer, I can't tell you how many times I've asked my co-workers: Just what, exactly, does she DO?

    But granted, schools nowadays are more than just bare bone places for teaching young minds. They're practically mega-corporations. I would actually posit that the students are the least of college administrator's concerns--which is why tenured faculty are probably in short supply while there's a never-ending stream of adjuncts.

    Most of these administrators are more focused on marketing and branding, creating joint-ventures with other institutions, establishing and maintaining research, or getting donors on the development and annual giving rolls. There is a lot of professional schmoozing and bean counting that's going on to keep these institutions running. And that's what these administrators are for.

    And FWIW, these are probably going to be the well-funded, lavishly decorated, over-staffed offices at any college.
    Now the student service offices? Overworked, underpaid, and hurting for new PCs.