Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Step Toward Attacking The College Tuition Bubble

Source: Business Week
As a college professor, I understand that we are part of the problem when it comes to the college tuition bubble.   At far too many universities, particularly large research institutions, a significant number of faculty members don't teach enough or teach well enough.  Moreover, tuition dollars support research agendas that aren't always relevant to practitioners.   However, I think a significant share of the blame for the tuition bubble also must rest at the feet of administrators.  Take a look at this excerpt from a current Business Week column by John Hechinger:

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.

How can students and parents tolerate these types of statistics?  How can faculty members tolerate it?   I think that several factors contribute to the administrative bloat.  If we don't address these factors, then we will have a hard time reducing the administrator-faculty ratio. 
  • First, accreditation agencies serve a useful function, but they have placed increasing burdens on universities.  Efforts to achieve and/or preserve accreditation soak up enormous amounts of time, and they require a lot of administrative work.   I don't think the return on investment is justified in many cases. Could we streamline accreditation processes?  Absolutely.  Will we?  Well, these accreditation bodies are big businesses. They aren't likely to streamline unless enormous collective pressure is put upon them.  
  • Second, we do a terrible of preparing people for senior academic administration jobs.  We name professors to senior administrative posts with virtually no leadership development efforts to enable them to succeed.  We all know that a great teacher or researcher may not have the skills required to lead an organization.  Companies spend significant amounts of time and effort on leadership development; universities throw people into the ocean and expect them to swim.  When they start drowning, we appoint a few more associates or assistants to help them stay afloat!  
  • Third, many universities offer a wide variety of additional services to students today as compared to several decades ago.  Those services cost money, and they require administrators to oversee these efforts.  There is no free lunch.  If we want to reduce administrative bloat, we have to take a close look at the services we are demanding from our universities. 
  • Fourth, universities have faced an increasing regulatory burden, particularly when it comes to federal regulations that affect large research institutions.  Satisfying the regulatory requirements has taken increasing amounts of administrative work.  
  • Fifth, too many universities operate in a very top-down fashion.  Faculty and staff members do not feel empowered to make many decisions.   That centralized organizational structure is a remnant of the past.  Many companies have changed in recent years, adopting leaner and flatter structures.  Universities continue to operate in a much more command-and-control environment in many instances, despite the talk about being faculty-led, consensus-oriented, and the like. 

5 comments:

Etienne Douaze said...

Agree wholeheartedly. Ratio of support staff/frontline staff should be lower than 1. It is often around 2-3 at the moment. See interesting: http://t.co/UkU1nICW

Keith B Murray said...

The point is made exquisitely. The "causes," or explanations, make it more understandable--but not not more acceptable. But the contribution is worthy nonetheless: In the wise words of Dr. Phil: You can't change what you don't acknowledge. Keith Murray.

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alan trevithick said...

I'm in agreement on administrators, but, please, don't leave out a discussion here of the MAJORITY faculty in the United States, who are not tenured/tenure track faculty, but adjuncts or contingents. And, just the past weekend, at an SEIU conference in D.C, supported by union and non-union groups as well (eg, New Faculty Majority and New Facuoty Majority Foundation), Gary Rhoades, of the Center for the Study of Higher Education, at University of Arizona, called out the "prime hypocrisy" of an academy in which 2/3 to 3/t 4 of the faculty are not living any kind of that much ballyhooed "dream" that's supposed to be connected to higher education. Most faculty agree with Rhoades, that we need a commitment to decent higher education, not bogus "job training," for everybody who wants it, and particularly the least served people who are currently at the mercy of a higher ed industry that's been hijacked by corporate and "reform" elites--self-appointed "experts"--including many administrators --with generally no experience at all in real higher education-- that's teaching and research, helping others gain knowledge, creating new knowledge--and who see value in higher ed only to the extent that they produce it, brand it, and market it like any other commodity.
But that's not us--we're the faculty, and we're the heart of real higher education. If you're interested, here is one report on some faculty you may want to know more about: http://cringingliberalelite.blogspot.com/

alan trevithick said...

I'm in agreement on administrators, but, please, don't leave out a discussion here of the MAJORITY faculty in the United States, who are not tenured/tenure track faculty, but adjuncts or contingents. And, just the past weekend, at an SEIU conference in D.C, supported by union and non-union groups as well (eg, New Faculty Majority and New Facuoty Majority Foundation), Gary Rhoades, of the Center for the Study of Higher Education, at University of Arizona, called out the "prime hypocrisy" of an academy in which 2/3 to 3/t 4 of the faculty are not living any kind of that much ballyhooed "dream" that's supposed to be connected to higher education. Most faculty agree with Rhoades, that we need a commitment to decent higher education, not bogus "job training," for everybody who wants it, and particularly the least served people who are currently at the mercy of a higher ed industry that's been hijacked by corporate and "reform" elites--self-appointed "experts"--including many administrators --with generally no experience at all in real higher education-- that's teaching and research, helping others gain knowledge, creating new knowledge--and who see value in higher ed only to the extent that they produce it, brand it, and market it like any other commodity.
But that's not us--we're the faculty, and we're the heart of real higher education. If you're interested, here is one report on some faculty you may want to know more about: http://cringingliberalelite.blogspot.com/