The Real Danger of Universities Growing Non-Instructional Staff

At Daily Signal I have a piece about the new ACTA report on the huge increase in non-instructional spending at universities. The ACTA report emphasizes how non-instructional spending is driving tuition higher without improving student outcomes. That is true and worrisome.

But the larger danger of hiring an army of non-instructional staff is that they fundamentally distort the mission of higher education. Rather than focus on the pursuit of truth through open academic inquiry or the development of capable young adults ready to assume their responsibilities as citizens and in the economy, non-instructional staff are restricting academic freedom while infantilizing students.

The only solution, I suggest, is to cut back significantly on federal subsidies for higher education. Only financial scarcity will allow tuition-payers and state legislators to exercise influence to get universities to shift the focus back to professors and classes rather than baby-sitters and political commissars.

7 Responses to The Real Danger of Universities Growing Non-Instructional Staff

  1. Michael F. Shaughnessy says:

    “Non-Instructional spending” is a very nice way of saying a lot of different things- sure we want the toilet bowls cleaned and certainly we want the grass cut and the trees trimmed- but the book store has to have people in it- and the cafeteria workers need to be paid. We need to have a very clear cut definition of “non-instructional spending”. The library personnel are tangential “instructional people” but we need to be clear on these items of “non instructional spending”

    • This is a fair point. The categories are created by federal data collection procedures and universities may not be perfectly consistent in how they report them. The category in IPEDS is for non-instructional professional staff. So, this would not include toilet cleaners and lawn cutters, but would include librarians. And yes, universities need all of these things, but there has not been a dramatic increase in toilets, lawns, or libraries, so none of this would account for the large increases in this category over the last few decades.

      • F. says:

        Correct—-we need to look at where those ” statistically significant” increases have been or even substantive increases.

  2. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    (Greene): “The only solution, I suggest, is to cut back significantly on federal subsidies for higher education. Only financial scarcity will allow tuition-payers and state legislators to exercise influence to get universities to shift the focus back to professors and classes rather than baby-sitters and political commissars.”
    Here’s another suggestion, which addresses the objection in the Shaughnessy comment:
    The President exercises legitimate authority over three K-12 school systems (the DOD schools, the BIE schools, and the US Embassy schools) and five post-secondary schools (the five service academies). The President could:
    A: Mandate that the DOD schools, the BIE schools, and the five service academies open online branches which:
    1. Admit anyone who applies
    2. Charge no tuition
    3. Employ no faculty
    4. Conduct no classes
    5. Define courses by their syllabi
    6. Grant credit by exam
    7. License private-sector agencies to administer exams at a cost to be negotiated between the student and the proctoring agency.
    B. Mandate that all Federal Executive branch agencies must accept diplomas and degrees earned through exam as equivalent credentials earned through attendance at brick-and-mortar schools.
    Let competition between Sylvan Learning Centers, the University of Phoenix, and the Kumon Institute drive the cost of a high school diploma or of a college degree down to the cost of books and grading exams.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Jay, your proposed solution implies – correctly, I think – that before saying “non-instructional spending is driving tuition higher” we should first say “tuition increases are driving non-instructional spending higher.”

  4. pdexiii says:

    Dropping down to k-12, as far back as 17 years ago I noticed how the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was increasing the number of out-of-classroom instructional coaches, and how the headquarters was populated with senior (high-wage-scale), credentialed teachers occupying non-classroom positions.
    I could not understand how during the most recent LAUSD strike teachers (actually the unions) were bringing up ‘class size’ as an issue. How, in a district that implemented a school building surge in the 00’s, coupled with a significant drop in enrollment (700k in 2003, now hovering just below 500k), still have a ‘class size’ issue?
    Like colleges, I suspect, high-priced, non-classroom admit positions aren’t helping students at school sites.

    • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

      ” … the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was increasing the number of out-of-classroom instructional coaches, and how the headquarters was populated with senior (high-wage-scale), credentialed teachers occupying non-classroom positions.”
      A high “teacher” to other staff ratio makes them look good on paper and immunizes them against charges of administrative bloat until you look closer.

      US DOE _Digest of Education Statistics_
      Table 215.10. Selected statistics on enrollment, teachers, dropouts, and graduates in public school districts enrolling more than 15,000 students: Selected years, 1990 through 2017
      “FTE teachers as a percentage of total FTE staff.”
      Districts with more than 15,000 students (US average): 50.6%
      San Marcos Unified, Ca. Unified: 32.5
      Chicago, Il.: 85.0%
      Yonkers, NY: 88.0%
      I don’t believe the numbers from either extreme.

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