Replication is the engine of scientific progress. That progress feels especially good when it confirms one’s work.
A little more than a year ago I wrote an analysis for the Goldwater Institute along with Brian Kisida and Jonathan Mills on the growth in non-instructional professional staff at major universities — or administrative bloat. Then last year the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) issued what appeared to be a rebuttal analysis in which they claimed that “public colleges and universities are operating more efficiently than before, and with appropriate numbers of staff.”
Recently the Pope Center examined both of these studies and then conducted their own new analysis. They concluded:
the Pope Center analyzed the two studies and also roughly replicated both of them for the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. While we do not claim to be the definitive voice on the matter, we discovered that one of the two studies—the one that said excessive staffing is a serious problem—seemed to be on the mark. The other contained some truth but also raised a few questions about its objectivity….
Our findings, which focused entirely on the UNC system, corroborated the Goldwater study for the most part. Between 1993 and 2010, total UNC system staffing indeed grew faster than enrollment: 51 percent against 42 percent; the number of total staff members per 100 students grew 5.9 percent….
The failure to mention the more recent upward trend in staffing [in the SHEEO report] was puzzling—certainly anybody who has looked at statistics professionally would be able to pick up the trend reversal and realize its significance. Such an important omission raises the possibility that the SHEEO researchers also “cherry-picked” 2001 as a starting point in order to show an overall decline in staffing, rather than the real long-term trend that staffing is rising. (There are no such concerns about the Goldwater study—the researchers chose 1993 because that was the first year for which this type IPEDS was available.)
Ahh. Vindication is sweet.