Benjamin Ginsberg on Administrative Bloat in Higher Ed

Johns Hopkins political scientist, Benjamin Ginsberg has a new book out: The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters.  In it he documents how universities have experienced explosive growth in the number of administrators and other non-faculty professionals and how this administrative bloat is making costs soar while distracting universities from their primary mission.  His argument is virtually identical to the report I wrote last year with Brian Kisida and Jonathan Mills that was released by the Goldwater Institute.

I’m thrilled that Ginsberg is getting more attention for this issue.  Here is a taste from his Washington Monthly article summarizing his book:

Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.

Apparently, as colleges and universities have had more money to spend, they have not chosen to spend it on expanding their instructional resources—that is, on paying faculty. They have chosen, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources….

Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of their full-time faculties. As a result, universities are now filled with armies of functionaries—vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, all of whom command staffers and assistants—who, more and more, direct the operations of every school. If there is any hope of getting higher education costs in line, and improving its quality—and I think there is, though the hour is late—it begins with taking a pair of shears to the overgrown administrative bureaucracy.

I also particularly enjoyed this bit Ginsberg had on strategic planning at universities:

Another ubiquitous make-work exercise is the formation of a “strategic plan.” Until recent years, colleges engaged in little formal planning. Today, however, virtually every college and university in the nation has an elaborate strategic plan. This is typically a lengthy document— some are 100 pages long or more—that purports to articulate the school’s mission, its leadership’s vision of the future, and the various steps that are needed to achieve the school’s goals. The typical plan takes six months to two years to write and requires countless hours of work from senior administrators and their staffs.

A plan that was really designed to guide an organization’s efforts to achieve future objectives, as it might be promulgated by a corporation or a military agency, would typically present concrete objectives, a timetable for their realization, an outline of the tactics that will be employed, a precise assignment of staff responsibilities, and a budget. Some university plans approach this model. Most, however, are simply expanded “vision statements” that are often forgotten soon after they are promulgated. My university has presented two systemwide strategic plans and one arts and sciences strategic plan in the last fifteen years. No one can remember much about any of these plans, but another one is currently in the works. The plan is not a blueprint for the future. It is, instead, a management tool for the present. The ubiquity of planning at America’s colleges and universities is another reflection and reinforcement of the ongoing growth of administrative power.

Be sure to check out Ginsberg’s book.  We plan to have some meetings to discuss it, will form a study group to consider recommendations, and will then issue an action-plan that is aligned with our strategic priorities.

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One Response to Benjamin Ginsberg on Administrative Bloat in Higher Ed

  1. John Cronin says:

    Here’s something to reinforce your finding. I attended a private university in the late 1970s. My senior year, tuition was $2,100 and room and board was about $4,000. Moving forward 35 years, my daughters now attend the school. Room and board today is abour $9,000, little more than double. Tuition is over $31,000.

    Room and board are billed near cost in order to encourage students to live on campus. The difference in tuition basically reflects the additional administrative burden, and capital investments to bring technology up to 2011 standards.

    This can’t continue.

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