Thursday, March 13, 2008

All Those Administrators...

This story caught my eye. According to a study by the National Center for Educational Statistics, the percentage of full-time employees in higher ed classified as 'faculty' is decreasing, and the percentage classified as 'administrators' is increasing. The IHE summary doesn't define 'administrator,' so it's tough to interpret – it appears to be a catch-all for full-time non-faculty -- but what caught my eye was the distinction between one sector of higher ed and the rest.

One of these things is not like the other:

Percentage of f-t employees classified as 'administrators,' 2006

Private Non-profit 56%

Private For-profit 55.9%

4-year colleges 54.5%

2-year colleges 38.6%

What makes this especially striking is that community colleges also tend to have the highest percentage of courses taught by adjuncts, as opposed to full-time faculty. So we have fewer administrators per full-time faculty, and fewer full-time faculty per class. We're pretty bare-bones, which is part of why we can keep tuition low.

The discrepancy between sectors probably also helps explain why whenever I read stories about the alleged proliferation of administrators, it doesn't match my observation on the ground. In the two-year sector, where I work, it's not particularly true. In the four-year sector, it is.

Which makes sense, if you think about it (and define 'administrator' as any non-faculty role, from athletics coach to Security to department secretary). Most community colleges have relatively modest athletic programs, so we don't need anything resembling the staff needed to field a full slate of teams. Most cc's don't have dorms, so we don't need a lot of the 'student life' folk that residential colleges need. We don't have grant-supported research labs or centers, with all the lab assistants and grants officers those require. Our art galleries and such tend to be modest, not requiring full-time staff.

I wouldn't recommend applying the cc model to the four-year (and above) sector. While there's certainly fat to be found, it's still true that those labs and teams and even dorms add value. It's just that the value they add comes at a cost.

Comparing the statistics also raises a question about the frequent assertion that the growth of 'administration' (here usually used to refer to deans and vice presidents, as opposed to lab assistants and department secretaries) is the driver behind the turn to adjuncts. If that were the case, we'd expect cc's to have the lowest percentage of adjuncts of any sector. In fact, we have the highest. In my observation, the turn to adjuncts is much more about compensating for subsidy cuts, rather than creating new deans' positions. (My cc has fewer deans now than it did ten years ago, even though it has more adjuncts. The critical variable is declining external support, not internal featherbedding.)

I'm also intrigued to see virtually no difference between 'non-profit' and 'for-profit' colleges. From direct observation, I'm pretty sure that this is a function of the squishiness of the 'administration' category. For example, for-profits generally don't have grants officers, but they do have extraordinarily well-staffed Admissions offices. They don't have dorms, but they do have well-staffed Career Services offices. Some pretty fundamental differences are obscured by an unhelpful label.

Of course, there are also the usual external suspects driving growth of support staff: increased demands for technical support, increased demands for security on campus, ADA compliance, ever-more-complex financial aid rules, and the like. I'm not sure which of those is supposed to be either optional or sinister.

That's how the report looks from my neck of the woods. How does it look from yours?