Thursday, March 04, 2010

The cost of admission is one thing...

... but the cost of administration is another. Education cuts continue to brutalize both K-12 and higher ed in California, and there is little reason to hope for a turnaround any time soon. Next year's state budget is projected to have yet another shortfall, so I'm sure more cuts will be coming. Things are bad for private colleges as well; an institution that I am particularly close to has announced that 25 - 30 tenure-track faculty will be eliminated by the end of the term.

A recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee has some interesting figures about administrative cost, though. In the last ten years, the University of California system has seen a 40% increase in enrollment, and a 23% growth in faculty. Over the same period, senior administrative positions have grown by 97%. These are numbers, not dollars, which makes it even more problematic, given that a senior administrative position costs well over $100,000 year. The UC system laughably has 8,851 faculty and 8,470 senior administrators.

I'm really at a loss here. I won't pretend to know the administrative challenges that are present in higher education, but I'd wager my last dime (or my job) on the fact that universities, regardless of size, could function well and deliver a good education to students with a faculty to administrator ratio of less than 1:1 (okay, I'll be fair.. 1 : 0.97). Unfortunately, it is these same senior-level administrators that make decisions about what (or who) gets cut in a bad budget cycle; the conflict of interest is disconcerting, to say the least.

My guess is that this is related to a couple of things we've talked about here before: the cult of management and the trend to think of higher education as a business. Of course, this is doubly counterproductive because 1) higher education is not a business and the metaphor is problematic at so many levels of application and 2) the cult of management has driven our wider economic system to the precipice of destruction over the last ten years; i.e., it's one thing for the university to be run like a business if these people knew how to run a business, but it's something entirely different when it is apparently clear that few of these management types actually know how to run a business.

Of course, I have no faith that this administrative explosion will abate-- the proverbial crooks are in charge of the prison here, and it looks like students and faculty (particularly vulnerable groups like term, adjunct, and non-tenured faculty) will bear the brunt of the fallout for mistakes made at the top.