Pop Quiz: Why Are Tuitions So High?

College students and their families have struggled to pay for the rising cost of tuition, a cost that has been driven in part by swelling administrative expenses.

Over a 20-year period, the growth in administrative personnel at institutions of higher education has outpaced the growth in both faculty and student enrollment.

Critics refer to this as administrative bloat and contend it shows that universities and colleges are inefficient institutions.

Defenders say colleges are adding administrative staff to meet student needs.

An IBD analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that from 1989-2009 the number of administrative personnel at four- and two-year institutions grew 84%, from about 543,000 to over 1 million.

By contrast, the number of faculty increased 75%, from 824,000 to 1.4 million, while student enrollment grew 51%, from 13.5 million to 20.4 million.

The disparity was worse at public universities and colleges, where personnel in administration rose 71%, faculty 58% and student enrollment 40%. Private schools also saw administration and faculty growing faster than student enrollment, although faculties slightly outpaced administration increases.

Administrative personnel are employees who are not engaged in instruction and research. The jobs range from university president and provost to accountants, social workers, computer analysts and music directors.

One reason administration at public institutions has grown faster may be that bureaucracies tend to expand their staff and programs over time, regardless of need.

"The increase has a lot to do with all the money these institutions pull in from third parties, like state funds and student financial aid," said Daniel Bennett, a research fellow at the conservative Center for College Affordability & Productivity. "They’re using it to grow their staff rather than on students."

Since students are insulated from the full cost of tuition, administrators feel less pressure to spend more on faculty to teach students.

Bennett has also written that an onerous regulatory environment that higher education faces may be partially to blame.

"In order to comply with the government’s requirements, colleges need to employ a staff that is responsible for providing the multiple state and federal agencies with compliance reports and data," he wrote.

Acknowledging that some of the increase may be due to administrators wanting "to re-create themselves," Dan King, executive director at the American Association of University Administrators, claims it’s also due to changing needs.

"Students are coming in less prepared, needing more remedial assistance," he said. "If they need help from a writing lab or math lab, that’s usually done by administrators. That’s something that universities didn’t have to provide as much even 10 years ago."

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