Administrative growth drives up costs at state-owned universities
As many students went deeper into debt to pay for their education, administrative costs at Pennsylvania's state-owned universities rose about $40 million from 2001 to 2010, an increase almost equal to the 53 percent jump in tuition.
The 14 universities hired administrators and managers, raising their ranks by 292 people, or 23 percent, while increasing faculty by just 5 percent. The administrative buildup has caught the attention of at least two members of the Board of Governors, which oversees state-owned schools, and faculty members, who say shifting personnel patterns represent a subtle change in campus culture.
“It's an open question of how important (administrators) are to the ongoing mission of universities,” said Steve Hicks, an English professor at Lock Haven University who heads the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties.
“I think there is a tendency to create a culture of meetings and talking and thinking that they need bodies to go to meetings,” Hicks said. “The dean doesn't want to go to the meeting on some subcommittee, so he needs an assistant to go do it. There is a whole cadre of people who do meetings and crunch numbers all day long.”
State system officials said enrollment increases triggered a need for managers and administrators to handle such things as financial aid and to recruit students — a competitive task as the pool of graduating high school seniors continues to shrink.
Karen Ball, a vice chancellor for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said much of the increase came in admissions, financial aid and student life positions.
“It wasn't presidents, vice presidents and provosts,” Ball said.
Part of the increase can be attributed to reclassifying nonteaching faculty as managers and hiring information technology managers to provide faculty support, she said.
Whatever the impetus, the numbers mirror a change at campuses across the nation.
According to the Department of Education, full-time management positions at colleges and universities grew by 44.6 percent between 1989 and 2009 to 222,282. Full-time faculty and research positions grew by 23.4 percent to 728,977.
Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor at Johns Hopkins University who writes about staffing at colleges, said “administrative bloat” is widespread.
“Nationally, administrative growth accounts for about 40 percent of the cost increases at American colleges. At most schools, administrative growth is mainly internally generated, not a response to federal mandates or other external factors,” Ginsberg said.
Declines in state funding and enrollment have cut into administrative increases at state-owned schools, but the management remains about 17 percent larger than in 2001.
Payroll records obtained by the faculty union show management and administrative positions at the state system increased from 1,265 to 1,557 during the decade when enrollment grew from 98,600 to 119,500, or about 21 percent.
“I'm concerned,” said state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, a member of the Board of Governors.
Robert Taylor, a fellow board member, pointed out to him in a letter the administrative and management increases.
“He made valid points about that. We have to find out why the number is as high as it was,” Hanna said.
Taylor, a lawyer from southeastern Pennsylvania, declined to discuss his concerns but confirmed that he wrote the letter saying he's concerned for students and taxpayers who underwrite those costs.
Pensions, health care and retirement health care are other cost drivers, Ball said.
Although bureaucracy at state-owned universities expanded quickly in the first decade of century, Ball said, schools have cut those jobs and other faculty and staff positions to adjust to declines in enrollment and state subsidies.
The inflation-adjusted cost of educating a student for a year at a state system university — about $14,200 — has not changed in 20 years, she said.
“What has changed is who is paying for it. The state used to pay for a lot more. Next year, the state will pay for about 23 to 24 percent,” Ball said.
Donald Heller, dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University, speculated that faculty growth might not keep pace with enrollment and administrative growth because colleges increasingly rely on part-time or adjunct faculty.
“All things being equal, having more staff can lead to higher costs. But the reality for public institutions — and those in Pennsylvania in particular, including PASSHE — is the rise in tuition has been much more heavily driven by constraints on state appropriations,” Heller said.
At California University of Pennsylvania, where administrative staff increased 18 percent from 2006 to 2012, university spokeswoman Christine Kindl said those individuals play an important role.
“Non-faculty managers in various areas provide leadership, manage academic and institutional resources, implement essential student services, maintain the campus infrastructure and technology, and provide both academic support and ‘customer service' for our students,” Kindl said.
“In diverse ways, non-faculty managers keep our complex institution running so that professors can concentrate on teaching and students can focus on learning.”
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.