Higher Education

Bureaucratic costs at some colleges are twice what’s spent on instruction

New report urges boards of trustees to constrain continuing administrative bloat

Some small private colleges are spending almost twice as much on administration as on academics, according to a study by an association of university trustees.

The study, based on financial data provided by colleges and universities themselves to the federal government, found that 64 cents was spent on administration at the smallest private colleges for every $1 spent on instruction. *

The proportions declined with economies of scale, according to the study, by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, or ACTA. At the largest public research universities, it said, 17 cents were spent on administration for every 83 cents spent on instruction.

There have been many reports about growth in the number of administrators — which continued even after the recession — and the salaries and benefits they get. Because of complexities of accounting, however, there’s been limited empirical research connecting these conclusively to rising college costs.

What is not in dispute is that the number of administrators at colleges and universities grew twice as fast in the 25 years ending in 2012 as the number of students, according to federal data analyzed by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

A 2010 study by the conservative Goldwater Institute found that while instructional spending per student at 198 top public and private universities and colleges rose 39 percent between 1993 and 2007, administrative spending per student jumped by 61 percent.

A 2014 report by the Delta Cost Project found that the number of administrators had increased from one per 3.5 faculty and staff positions in 1990 to 2.2 in 2012.

Colleges and universities contend that the increase in the number of administrators is driven by such things as federal regulation, the need to support more complex technology and new functions such as sustainability efforts, which they say save money over the long term.

The ACTA classified “instructional costs” as including academic support, academic deans, libraries, and museums. It regarded administrative costs as falling under what the government categorizes as “instructional support,” which includes planning, legal and financial services, public relations and marketing and development, but not student activities, financial aid services, housing, parking or dining.

* “An earlier version of this story said the survey found that 64 cents was spent on administration for every 36 cents spent on instruction.”

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Jon Marcus

Jon Marcus, higher-education editor, has written about higher education for the Washington Post, USA Today, Time, the Boston Globe, Washington Monthly, is North America higher-education… See Archive

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I have two children, one attended a top 20 National Liberal Arts college(A Private Institution) and one attended a top 40 National Research University(A Public Institution). From my vantage point, the private School supported my child every step of the way, on the other hand, the public School let my child sink or swim on her own. There was a significant difference between the types of educational model. The private school had invested so much more resources in finding internship and career planning of its students than the public one. Therefore, no wonder, the percentage of administrative costs were much higher in the Liberal Arts Institutions than the big National Research University.

- from Michael Tsou, Jul 31, 2017