We at Café Learn want to help instructors easily bring their best to their courses at the lowest cost to their students. We also know that educators should be able to share their ideas easily and scale what they do from term to term, and institution to institution. Since launching, we have worked directly with instructors and their classes, and during our exchanges, we have become very tuned-in to the realities today’s current instructors and students face. And, by the way, today’s student is not what she was a generation ago. We also understand schools and students need and desire to matriculate without delay and graduate on time.
Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a deep dive into the cause and effects of student debts, and look closer at our country’s borrowing and lending structures. We will ask tough questions, and hopefully, reveal some truths that should be scrutinized by a larger audience.
Let’s not delay. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a self-declared democratic socialist, fired up many young people with his campaign initiative for free public university tuition. While young people were completely behind his idea, many detractors thought him and them naive, that there is no way tuition could be free, that perhaps community colleges could be free...but that they are already pretty inexpensive anyhow. The part of this conversation that never bubbled up to public discourse is the fact, dollars and cents truth, which even if tuition could be brought down or eliminated the significant cost that students pay each term goes to administrative fees, not tuition. So, even if a state system found a way to eliminate tuition (and there are a number looking into doing just this) students would still be strapped with these expenses.
Investigation into the rise of student tuition and fees has been going on for some time, it’s not simply a political point for 2016. John Hopkins University professor of political science Benjamin Ginsberg published The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, 2e in 2011, and much of his research was adapted for the Washington Monthly’s article Administrators Ate My Tuition the same year.
The article adaptation highlights Ginsberg’s finite research on the expansion of university administrations in comparison to both instruction staffing and student enrollment. Ginsberg clearly illuminates that faculty-to-student ratio remained consistent, administration ballooned:
Between 1975 and 2005, total spending by American higher educational institutions, stated in constant dollars, tripled, to more than $325 billion per year. Over the same period, the faculty-to-student ratio has remained fairly constant, at approximately fifteen or sixteen students per instructor. One thing that has changed, dramatically, is the administrator-per-student ratio. In 1975, colleges employed one administrator for every eighty-four students and one professional staffer—admissions officers, information technology specialists, and the like—for every fifty students. By 2005, the administrator-to-student ratio had dropped to one administrator for every sixty-eight students while the ratio of professional staffers had dropped to one for every twenty-one students.
...as colleges and universities have had more money to spend, they have not chosen to spend it on expanding their instructional resources—that is, on paying faculty...
Keep in mind, that for the past 40 years, more and more instructors faculty are hired for part-time positions:
Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. The efforts of 446,830 professors were supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers. Over the past four decades, though, the number of full-time professors or “full-time equivalents”—that is, slots filled by two or more part-time faculty members whose combined hours equal those of a full-timer—increased slightly more than 50 percent. That percentage is comparable to the growth in student enrollments during the same time period. But the number of administrators and administrative staffers employed by those schools increased by an astonishing 85 percent and 240 percent, respectively.
Ginsberg outlines three central causes behind the rise of the number of university administrative positions:
There are more administrative responsibilities now than forty years ago. The growth in student population has created a need for more support, and more space. Also, simply consider the advent and necessity of IT systems and support, and investment in such administrative, and operational departments are imperative to sustainability. There’s also more need for marketing, to help with fundraising and recruiting.
Over the decades, state and federal mandates to collect, analyze, and archive records have increased, as have the need to meet licensure and accreditations, especially for private institutions.
Finally, there are many administrative responsibilities that instructors don’t want to deal with and have no issue delegation to administrative support.
At the same time, institutions have rationalized that there are fiscal advantages to using part-time, “adjunct” faculty. Today it is estimated the 50-75 of higher ed instructors are part-time...maybe that’s why they don’t have time to manage simpler administrative chores?
So, where is the money going?
In May of 2015, Demos published research showing trends in university spending in a brief called Pulling Up the Higher-Ed Ladder: Myth and Reality in the Crisis of College Affordability. The brief’s data is from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Delta Cost Project Database. The authors divided 4-year universities into two categories, “research institutions—schools that have a high level of research activity and award a significant number of doctorates—and master’s and bachelor’s universities—schools that primarily award master’s and/or bachelor’s degrees. Research institutions consistently enrolled about 60 percent of all undergraduates at public 4-year institutions in the decade covered by the brief, while master’s and bachelor’s universities accounted for the remaining 40 percent.”
The research found that declining state spending had been the main reason for rising tuition, between 78-79 percent, and administration costs account for five-six percent of the increase. They also found that construction accounted for about six percent increase in tuition if you add that to administration the latter’s percentage rises to 11-12 percent, respectively. It is crucial to note that the data showed the decline in state appropriations accounted for 100% of the increase in community college tuition.
Here are snapshots of the data:
It’s much easier to point the blame, data-based as it is, within a single community rather than a public prioritization. The data shows that decrease in state funding is the central and growing reason for the rise in the cost of a higher ed degree. When our economies suffer a recession, large or small, education is always cut. Unfortunately refund bounce back is flat to laggard. Education is not a priority, not K12, and not higher ed. Our country holds a manifest destiny, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality that is weakening not only the pipeline to our workforce but the future for everyone.
It’s no wonder many young voters supported Sanders call for free public tuition. They were not looking for a handout; they were looking for a hand up, an investment for themselves, their families, their communities, and our country. The US has the most robust economy in the world, by far, and the size of California’s alone just past France. Come on; we have the wherewithal, ingenuity, innovation, and most importantly need to invest in education and make it a national priority.