At Inside Higher Ed this morning, they have a news squib about a new report blaming the high cost of college on “administrative bloat.” Coincidentally, the Dean Dad has a post pre-emptively responding to this in the course of arguing with a different group:

In terms of administration, what would you cut? Should we stop trying to comply with the ADA? Should we stop evaluating faculty altogether, and just trust that everybody is perfect? Perhaps we should stop giving financial aid, since it requires so many staff. Who cares about accreditation? Who cares about IT? Who cares about payroll? (Whoops.)

This is a very common call-and-response game in academic debates. everyone points to an explosion in administrators, while not really accounting for the fact that “administrative staff” includes a lot of critical support staff– most IT departments are classified as administration, for example, as are all the student support services most colleges offer these days– counseling centers, multicultural coordinators, the people who keep track of students with learning disabilities, etc. It’s not all fat salaries for vice presidents– a lot of the administrative budget is stuff that people who complain about “bloat” would hate to lost.

What’s particularly entertaining about this example of synchronicity between IHE and the Dean Dad is that his next paragraph is:

In my experience, carping about “administrative bloat” is similar to Republicans carping about “wasteful government.” It feels good, it gives a common enemy, and it lets you dodge some difficult questions. But until you actually specify what you’re talking about, it’s bluffing.

The study in question? It’s by the Goldwater Institute, and offers as one of it’s main recommendations:

The large and increasing rate of government subsidy for higher education facilitates administrative bloat by insulating students from the costs. Reducing government subsidies would do much to make universities more efficient.

It’s almost too perfect to be real…

(To be fair, now, I suspect that the Goldwater Institute would also oppose most of the Federal mandates for things like counseling and academic support services, so they’re not wildly hypocritical. Just wildly unrealistic.)


  1. #1 Eric Lund
    August 17, 2010

    The large and increasing rate of government subsidy for higher education

    What color is the sky on the planet where the authors of that study live? Part of the reason for hefty tuition increases, at least at state universities, is that state subsidies have not been keeping pace with the increasing costs of education, much of which (as you point out) is required by Federal law. Federal policies have not helped, either; they have tended to favor a heavier reliance on loans while cutting back on grants. (The loans may be subsidized to some extent, but it is expected that the loans will be paid off; federal student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.)

    I’ve heard similar arguments put forth at local school district meetings, particularly in respect to special education expenses, and the flaw is the same. The school district is required by Federal law to provide suitable special education to all students living within its boundaries who require it. It costs what it costs, and since it isn’t really a competitive market, it isn’t cheap: an out-of-district placement, if needed, costs ~$100k for one student (that’s an order of magnitude higher than the average per student cost).

  2. #2 ScentOfViolets
    August 17, 2010

    The problem, of course, is that everyone says that education is important. But you can tell what the guys who actually move the bucks around really think by the way they allocate resources. I’m from Missouri – UMC – and we had our Boy Governor, Matt Blunt, sell off a big chunk of MOHELA “because he cares about education”. Oops.

    Like everything else that needs to be done right, education costs money. “Hold teachers accountable”, or even “hold administrators accountable” sounds good to people who don’t want to see their taxes go up. But those ploys don’t generate money.

  3. #3 BM
    August 17, 2010

    I’d like to see the administrative budget of the Goldwater Institute. Who are all these “office assistants” and “communications associates”? Under real market-competitive pressure the CEO could have to make his own coffee; the development office could be furloughed down to 50%; all of those attorneys could be outsourced.

  4. #4 Lowly Prof
    August 17, 2010

    I don’t multicultural coordinators are necessary. My university has an Associate Dean of Campus Diversity. Mostly, she brings in speakers from the left end of the political spectrum. She even brought in someone to train students how to advocate against a proposition that was on the ballot.

    Our former president also created several new vice president positions during five years. Each time he would apologize for the growth in the administration, but claim that the position was vital. I don’t buy that all or even most of the administrative growth has been because of new regulations as is often claimed.