It is no secret the cost of higher education around the country has grown rapidly, far exceeding the rate of inflation. Many critics of this sharp cost increase often point to one culprit: administrative bloat.
From 2009 to 2012, average tuition for public four-year colleges went from $7,020 to $8,655 — an increase of $1,635.
Administrative bloat is a higher education trend that points to the disproportionate increase of administrative hiring in universities and colleges across America.
In an analysis of federal figures, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and the American Institute for Research found that between 1987 and academic year 2011-12, universities and colleges of America have added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, an average of 87 for each working day.
In 2005, the national average was 68 students for every administrator.
Keith Lepak, Youngstown State University professor of the political science department, detailed the role of these administrators.
“The administrators must run the institution. In other words, they have to see that the university is on proper financial footing; that the services of the university are organized well; that the future of the university as a viable operational proposition is met. It is not just a present thing; it is a future orientation,” Lepak said.
Stanley Guzell, a YSU professor of management, detailed the ideal methodology behind choosing the optimal number of administrators.
“There is something in management called span of control, and that really means: how many subordinates can some managers supervise adequately without losing control. Generally, you want to have as wide a span of control as possible. If you could happily supervise six people, you don’t want only four reporting to you,” Guzell said.
Critics say that administrative numbers have far exceeded what is needed for university operations and control.
Jack Fahey, vice president of Student Affairs and an administrator himself, said this growth was due mostly to the increase in demand from government regulations as higher education grew larger.
“Everything you read is ‘college costs are going up; college costs are going up.’ College costs don’t need to go up by three times the level of inflation, as they have been going. What proliferates that is every time the federal government adds a new regulations,” Fahey said. “Most of our sister institutions look at that and say, ‘okay we have to add a person.””
Lepak added that growth was also due to the pressure on universities, from various sources, to retain and graduate students.
“I suspect that one of the things that drives up numbers of administrators … is simply the competition for students and the desire to retain students. For example, our institutions, in terms of the kind of administrative services provided to students, has grown simply because of the state concern for completing four year degrees, and you won’t increase your number of people getting four year degrees unless you first of all increase the number of students and try to take care of them while they are here,” he said.
YSU, per the available numbers from 1998 to 2011, has experienced limited administrative, executive and managerial, EA, employee growth. EA includes employees in charge of managing the university’s functions and is made up of administrator positions such as deans, presidents, and department heads.
YSU totaled 64 full-time EA employees in 1998 — one EA employee for every 196 students — and 67 in 2011 — one EA employee for every 217 students. The category reached its peak with 74 employees in 2008 — one EA employee for every 185 students.
In 2011, the Ohio four-year universities main and regional campuses total full-time EA employees stood at 4,316, or 79 students for every EA employee.
Kent State University 95 students for every full-time EA employee; University of Akron had 329 students for every full-time EA employee; and Ohio University had 202 students for every full-time EA employee.
Fahey said YSU emphasizes a lean administration.
“Every time we had to add a person, it has always been our philosophy that if that piece of work requires a new office or a new person, then we need to find something that is no longer of importance and take away from that,” Fahey said. “When we hired Gary Swegan, our new associate Vice President, we didn’t just wake up one morning and say ‘you know, we need money for this guy.’ That was part of a long term prioritization of resources in student affairs.”
John Russo, retired Department of Management professor and former Faculty Union President and chief faculty negotiator, said the university still fell victim to a sharp growth in administrative staff in the 80s and 90s, hurting the faculty.
“We did a lot of looking at what was happening at the university as it was downsizing, because the number of faculty at that time was much larger in the early 90s, and what we were finding, as the university downsized, the number of administrators grew dramatically,” Russo said. “More and more resources of the university were going toward administration, and less and less was going toward direct involvement with students and teachers.”
Russo also warned against being overly optimistic about YSU slim administrative numbers relative to other universities in the nation and Ohio.
“That was an argument we have heard before,” Russo said. “Indeed, we may be even with or less than other state institutions, but those other state institutions have also seen dramatic increases in administration.”