When Eric Kaler became president of the University of Minnesota last year, he pledged to curb soaring tuition by cutting administrative overhead. But he hit a snag: No one could tell him exactly what it cost to manage the school.
Like many public colleges, the University of Minnesota went on a spending spree over the past decade, paid for by a steady stream of state money and rising tuition. Officials didn't keep close tabs on their payroll as it swelled beyond 19,000 employees, nearly one for every 3½ students. "The more questions I asked, the less happy I was," Dr. Kaler said.A couple of observations. There's no question public universities have a lot of waste and many useless programs. And public universities really aren't subject to market forces. When attempts are made to reduce state subsidies, there are always cries of damaging higher education and forcing students to pay higher tuition instead of simply reducing expenditures.
Many of the newly hired, it turns out, were doing little teaching. A Wall Street Journal analysis of University of Minnesota salary and employment records from 2001 through last spring shows that the system added more than 1,000 administrators over that period. Their ranks grew 37%, more than twice as fast as the teaching corps and nearly twice as fast as the student body.
Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It's part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.
...Administrative employees make up an increasing share of the university's higher-paid people. The school employs 353 people earning more than $200,000 a year. That is up 57% from the inflation-adjusted pay equivalent in 2001. Among this $200,000-plus group, 81 today have administrative titles, versus 39 in 2001.
Administrators making over $300,000 in inflation-adjusted terms rose to 17 from seven.
...For decades, public universities were somewhat insulated from financial rigor by steadily increasing state funding. That has slowed or stopped in many states in tight budgetary times. Minnesota's government last year contributed $570 million to university operations, which was about the same as in the 2003-04 school year despite inflation and roughly 10% increased enrollment.
Higher education now faces pressures similar to those that reshaped other segments, Minnesota's Dr. Kaler says. "You look at American industry in general—the car industry got comfortable until the Japanese showed up, the airline industry was comfortable until it got deregulated," he says. "Now it's higher ed's turn."