Monday, May 20, 2013
Reading Beyond Headlines
The real issues aren’t about fat cat administrators building empires. (Admittedly, I enjoy the irony of Bain Capital calling out fat cats.) Cost drivers include Baumol’s cost disease, the rise of IT, various unfunded compliance mandates, and public disinvestment. Among elite privates, replace “public disinvestment” with “status competition.” If you want to get a handle on costs, address those. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work; there aren’t as many of us per student as there used to be.
My sympathies are with the investigative reporters, even if they represent a partisan line of thought, and I do think that there are a host of things institutions can do to become more efficient. However, where we can agree is that the argument is too broad and the data is far more nuanced. It does look like most of you guys in the CC sector are doing good work, and your particular argument is valid (although Cape Cod and Mount Wachusett's numbers don't add up), and I don't doubt you and other administrators like you work very hard with right motivations.
Dean Dad, keep making good arguments. We need to make education work, and work efficiently.
1) You could add the rising cost of health care to college price.
2) I have worked at colleges and universities where the faculty (while often very protective of the clerical folks--who admittedly are the lowest paid and least powerful group on campus) decried the rise of the administrator class. Now, I understand that there's a certain zero-sum attitude here and another VP means on some level that a tenure-line faculty position is not going to be created.
However, 40 years ago, the FACULTY at many places did judicial affairs, served as advisors, ran admissions, advised Greek Life, coordinated res life, career centers, etc. Let's just say I haven't seen a lot of faculty willing to assume those duties again. (A former faculty colleague took me aside one day and said he'd been to a student affairs conference as part of some administrative training. He told me he was stunned at the challenges and issues that student affairs administrators routinely--and said that he "sure couldn't do it."
3) More people with emotional, psychological, and medical needs are coming to campus, necessitating counselors, disability specialists, learning coordinators, medical personnel, etc. I think people who wouldn't have been able to go to college a generation ago should have the opportunity, but that's got to drive up the costs as well.
@point number 2:
I as faculty do decry the expansion of the administration position. For 2 main reasons:
a) At my institution it came with a reduction in full time faculty. This increased the workload of HODs in terms of adjunct supervision, management and facilitation.
b) We faculty still advise students, run students activities while carrying a 5-6 course load. The administrative increase has given us no relief, but increased our load in new areas. Add to this the fact that there is little consultation.
@#3, correct as well, if in fact the school has expanded its service in that direction by hiring people or building facilities. Here , we faculty bear the burden. this burden should be borne by increased governmental support directed specifically to those lines. But education suffers from cuts.
I do sound like a conservative talking point when I say it, but a huge chunk of time on campus is devoted to government regulation. Not just the enormous sponsored programs staff but even just our regular state-funded spending. Our state is so completely terrified by the notion that we might not make optimal use of public funds every second of every day that there are whole departments of people who exist just to make sure we're not breaking any of their rules. And I'm not talking about outright fraud (every institution needs folks looking out for that) but stupid, petty things.
I'll give you an example. One of the overlords recently asked me to produce a written justification when I bought a cheapo vacuum cleaner for our office. HOW COULD WE POSSIBLY NEED SUCH A THING? MUST BE FUNNY BUSINESS GOING ON! We need it because we have a high-traffic office admissions office and sometimes folks track mud on the floor and we don't want to wait a day or two for it to get cleaned. We have people here at this institution who, despite being overworked and yet dramatically underpaid for our region, are still offering to vacuum in the middle of the day (!) just to make the office look nice for students. And the state is on that horrible abuse of funds like white on rice. They waste their time, I waste my time on what is essentially some good employees taking initiative.
This is the irony of an ideology that regards government spending of any kind as an absolute horror: the more rules you put on it to punish your universities for their audacity in being public institutions, the more benefitted positions you have to hire to enforce the rules. And you don't even see the irony.
In my experience, the more you know personally about a story, the more you'll recognize that the press coverage is terribly, terribly inaccurate. It's not necessarily deliberate, or agenda driven. When I was interviewed by a sympathetic journalist years ago, I was shocked when I read her published story. Was I really that unclear, was she not listening carefully, or was she just not very talented? Doesn't matter.
Now you can empathize with conservatives who fume over the inaccurate media coverage they get.
When I speak of administration, I include not only the top-level folks--the deans, assistant deans, associate deans, vice presidents of whatever, and assistant and associate directors of this or that, all of whom are supposedly drawing fat-cat salaries. I also include all of the support people, all of the front-office and back-office people who do the routine, day-to-day work of the administrative offices.
Back in the day when I was an undergraduate at a SLAC in the 1960s, there was a president (whose main job was fundraising), a Dean of the College who handled academic matters, a Dean of Men, a Dean of Women, plus a Registrar and a Director of Placement, and that was about it. No assistant or associate deans and no vice presidents. There were not all that many support personnel either--whenever you went into the Dean’s office, just about the only person there was a secretary who was shared by all of the deans.
Those were the good old days. I suspect if I went back there today, there would be a lot more people in the administrative offices—a bevy of vice presidents, directors of this and directors of that, plus a bunch of assistant and associate deans, as well as a lot of people to back these people up.
Now I know that there is a lot more administrative work that needs to be done in colleges and universities these days, a lot more than when I was an undergraduate. The handling of the details of student financial aid requires a lot of people. Colleges and universities now have to show that they are in compliance with a long list of government regulations, most of which are unfunded mandates, all of which require extensive support staffs which drive up the costs. Keeping up with the demands and requirements imposed by the accrediting agencies necessitates a lot of administrative support, as well as taking up of a lot of the time of faculty members. The outcomes assessment fad takes up so much time and effort that colleges need to hire a Director of Assessment, plus a lot of support staff in order to keep the accreditors happy. The current litigious environment requires that colleges and universities keep a gaggle of lawyers on staff or retainer, just in case an irate student, an angry parent, or a faculty member who was denied tenure gets angry and decides to file a lawsuit.
It is small wonder that college costs have grown at a much higher rate than inflation in general, even faster than the rate of rise of medical costs.
Guessing that it probably would.
And with regard to Anonymous 5:52--I work at a CC in the same state as Dean Dad, and I do a lot of what you mention in point 2, because it's dictated in our contract. I also do a lot of things which aren't dictated in our contract, because STEM is hot right now and we're expected to be present at all sorts of meetings to give data and our opinions. We write grants, despite the fact that there is also a grants office whose main job is to do this task. We host high school students and other visitors who want to learn more about STEM and tour our labs.
I don't know many faculty who just teach.