Growing Administration Costs


Growing administration costs and tuition fees. From the College Guide and Rankings edition of the Washington Monthly. No statistic about higher education commands more attention, and anxiety among members of the public than the rising price of admission. Since 1980, inflation-adjusted tuition at public universities has tripled, at private universities it has more than doubled. Compared to all other goods and services in the American economy, including medical care, only "cigarettes and tobacco products" have seen prices rise faster than the cost of going to college. And for all that, parents who sign away ever-larger tuition checks can be forgiven for doubting whether universities are spending those additional funds in ways that make their kids educations better to say nothing of three times better.

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.

Apparently, 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. They have chosen, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources. A comprehensive study published by the Delta Cost Project in 2010 reported that between 1998 and 2008, America's private colleges increased spending on instruction by 22 percent while increasing spending on administration and staff support by 36 percent. Parents who wonder why college tuition is so high and why it increases so much each year may be less than pleased to learn that their sons and daughters will have an opportunity to interact with more administrators and staffers but not more professors. Well, you can't have everything.