Anthony Hennen’s latest Martin Center column focuses on the high price of salaries within the University of North Carolina system.
The growth in administrative positions (and their paychecks) isn’t a new story, nor are administrators the only ones driving college costs higher. The administrative growth—or bloat, depending on how one values it—is a reflection of higher education’s expansion beyond teaching and research. The relatively narrow scope of universities in Europe, without dorms, sports teams, and few non-academic student services, contrasts American schools’ many parts and need for so many non-academic employees.
American higher education can’t function today without a large number of administrators to run all the arms and extensions of the university. As schools offer more services, they can’t avoid hiring more bureaucrats, be they highly paid managers or lower-level workers.
The question of hiring some administrators can also be beyond the control of universities. Take the diversity and inclusion side of the university apparatus. When the UNC system reviewed how it spends its $16.6 million diversity budget, it found that $7.3 million of the spending was legally required. While faculty numbers can change depending on a school’s focus, administrator numbers can be harder to change.
Bloated administrative numbers mostly come from lower- or mid-tier positions. A study from the Delta Cost Project found that “growth in administrative jobs was widespread across higher education—but creating new professional positions, rather than executive and managerial positions, is what drove the increase.” The growth of administrative positions has slowed after their strong growth during the 1990s and 2000s; non-instructional student services has fueled much of the hiring since then.