5 Consequences of Administrative Bloat

Ashley Thorne

Everyone wants to know: why is college so expensive? And is it worth the cost? Today, the Goldwater Institute has an answer: administrative bloat has triggered high costs and cheapened the quality of higher education.  

According to a new study headed by Jay P. Greene, “between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research or service only grew by 18 percent.” The study evaluated 198 top universities (see Appendix B for charts) using data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and compared institutions’ proportions of enrollment, employment, and spending.*

Two years ago NAS took note when IPEDS data showed that the proportion of full-time college administrators exceeded the proportion of full-time faculty members. At the time NAS president Peter Wood wrote:

In this sense, there are about 1.6 full-time administrators for every full-time instructional faculty member in American higher education. And the imbalance appears to be growing. Keep this in mind when next you read about the creation of new positions for ethnic counselors or senior vice provost for diversity. The rhinoceros of higher education administration grows thicker by the day.

Now, Dr. Wood has argued that administrators, along with faculty members and students, deserve the protection of academic freedom. And several universities in the Goldwater Institute’s study defend their expansion of administration as necessary for academic progress. “We are confident that any growth in administration has brought value and support to the university's primary missions of education, research and service," a University of Texas vice president told the Dallas Morning News.

This may be true, but NAS has also paid attention to what happens to higher education when the seesaw is tipped in administrators’ favor. Here are five consequences we’ve identified:

1. Therapeutic U

Rather than challenging students to meet high academic standards and stretch themselves academically, universities dominated by administrators have adopted a coddling culture that pampers students’ feelings and self-esteem. This breeds an entitled, consumer attitude in students, hampers educational progress, and fosters the “five-year party” mindset. See Tom Wood’s “Slouching Toward the Therapeutic University,” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

2. Reeducation

In the last two decades there has been a movement in which administrators see themselves as educators on equal levels with faculty members. As NAS wrote in a statement, “The movement goes by several names: ‘educating the whole person,’ ‘the residential life revolution’ and ‘the student learning imperative.’ Because many administrators perceive their role to be to help students become good and active “citizens” and overcome their biases, they take it upon themselves to reeducate them. This was the case at the University of Delaware, whose Big-Brother-esque ideological residence life program for freshman NAS and FIRE exposed in 2007.

3. Censorship

“That is where the problems are coming from: the administrators,” FIRE president Greg Lukianoff said at the 2009 NAS conference. FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) works to protect First Amendment rights on campus. FIRE especially targets speech codes—rules forbidding certain kinds of speech—which are generally created by administrators who “have taken up this issue as a moral imperative.” They believe their job is to protect students from being offended, when in fact such protection violates the right to freedom of speech (and it’s not their job).

4. Ideology

“To please political constituencies, universities need more diversity administrators, sustainability administrators, or anyone else who might improve the prospects for subsidies from politicians,” the Goldwater Institute study asserts. Indeed, colleges and universities are hiring more and more chief diversity officers, “green deans,” and staff to support them. See AASHE’s directory of campus sustainability officers and the list of members in the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE). Colleges have also discovered how to get cheap labor out of eco-enthusiastic students: hire them as sustainability administrators (sustainabullies) when they graduate. The cycle of indoctrination can then continue. See NAS’s takedown of the campus diversity industry in “What Does a Chief Diversity Officer Actually Do?

5. Mission Fail

All these things combine to form a massive distraction from the real reason colleges exist in the first place. Education is being crowded out by all the other stuff to which administrators are directing students’ and faculty members’ attention. This refocusing of attention has led to a re-centering of higher education’s ultimate mission: it’s now less about intellectual growth and more about advocacy for trendy causes. See “Beating the Apple Tree: How the University Coerces Activism,” Academic Questions, vol. 23, no. 2.

These five are among the most prominent problems that arise from having a lopsided ratio of faculty members to managers. How did we get here? The Goldwater Institute study suggests that government subsidies are the main reason for administrative bloat and skyrocketing costs in higher education:

Being non-profits, [universities] do not return excess profits to shareholders; instead, they return excess profits to their de facto shareholders, the administrators who manage the institutions. These administrators are paid dividends in the form of higher compensation and more fellow administrators who can reduce their own workload or expand their empires.

“The primary solution,” say the authors, “is to reduce the rate of government subsidies. We need to stop feeding the beast.”

To read the full report from the Goldwater Institute, click here.  

*Interestingly, Baylor University had the highest growth rate in administration (a 149.7% increase from 1993 to 2007) of the 10 Texas schools surveyed, and one of the highest growth rates overall. Yet only yesterday, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) found Baylor to be one of 16 “A List” schools on WhatWillTheyLearn.com. This means Baylor is one of the few four-year institutions—out of a total of 714 surveyed—that requires students to take at least 6 core subjects. The core subjects ACTA looks for are Composition, Mathematics, Science, Economics, U.S. Government or History, Literature, and Foreign Language.

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