Top level administrators are being hired at the University of Kentucky at more than twice the rate of full-time faculty, according to UK employee statistics.
The number of upper-level administrators rose 21 percent from 2007-08 to 2014-15, compared to an 8 percent increase in full-time teaching faculty during the same period. That’s a net gain of 100 people in each category.
Full-time faculty have been augmented by specialist and administrative faculty, bringing the total growth in faculty to 12 percent. Specialist and administrative faculty are researchers, librarians and administrators who also teach in addition to their other duties.
Student enrollment grew about 13 percent at UK during the seven-year period.
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About a third of the new administrators are working in UK HealthCare, which in the past decade has become a more than $1 billion enterprise. Another third was added to assist with fundraising, which officials say is crucial in light of state budget cuts. Most of the remainder were hired to deal with increased compliance requirements in areas such as athletics, federal research or Title IX, a federal law that assures equal access to education.
Managers also have been added to UK’s growing living-learning communities, where students live in academically themed dorms, said Provost Tim Tracy. The new workers will help coordinate efforts to keep and graduate students.
“We want to make sure we are the most effective and efficient institution possible,” Tracy said. “We’re trying to focus on student success in everything we do.”
To prove that point, the UK Board of Trustees voted last month to adopt a five-year strategic plan calling for dramatic improvements in student retention and graduation rates. At the meeting, Tracy announced two administrative positions — a previous job was renamed senior vice provost for academic excellence, and an assistant provost for strategic planning and implementation was added.
A national trend
The growth in the number of administrators at UK falls in line with many other schools. A 2014 study on higher education staffing by the Delta Cost Project, a nonpartisan nonprofit think tank, found that administrative positions drove a 28 percent expansion of the higher education work force from 2000 to 2012.
That trend has been going on for 20 years, said John Thelin, a professor of higher education history at UK.
“If the president and provost say these positions are necessary, it’s hard to test that one way or the other,” Thelin said. “These things require an act of faith ... if in fact the president and board think those additions are necessary and good, then they have the right to add them.”
The really outstanding institutions are also putting a lot of attention into the faculty they hire.
John Thelin, a professor of higher education history at UK
Many top-level universities also have added administration, but they tend to concentrate equally on adding enough faculty to keep teacher-student ratios very low, Thelin said.
“The really outstanding institutions are also putting a lot of attention into the faculty they hire,” he said.
UK’s ratio has risen from 17.7 students per teacher to 18 in the past seven years.
UK has been expanding its administration since at least 2001. In 2011, a Herald-Leader analysis found that in the previous decade, UK’s top administration had expanded by 32 percent, while faculty increased 18 percent.
Many of those administrators were hired to improve student success. But graduation and retention rates have remained relatively flat.
Six-year graduation rates hit a high point in 2011, at 61.1 percent, and zig-zagged between 57 percent and 59 percent after that. UK students who began in 2009 had a six-year graduation rate of 60.2 percent. Retention rates — the number of students who return after their first year — have hovered in the 81 percent to 82 percent range since 2008. (In fall 2015, the retention rate was 82.6 percent, an all-time high.)
UK spokesman Jay Blanton said President Eli Capilouto started focusing on undergraduate education when he arrived in 2011. From 2007-14, the four-year graduation rate has increased from 32.9 percent to 40.4 percent.
“Much work remains, but we are making gains due to the focused and collaborative work of faculty, staff and administration, where intentional and strategic investments have been made,” Blanton said.
A constant need
Capilouto also has focused on increasing the number of students. The number of freshman, for example, grew 18 percent from 2007 to 2014.
There are now roughly 23,000 undergraduates trying to get enough credits to graduate.
In the Department of Biology, chairman Vincent Cassone must figure out how to offer 25,000 student credit hours a year to the 1,500 students majoring in biology.
“We don’t have the faculty to teach the students we have,” Cassone said. “If you look at the university as a whole, our student-teacher ratio is pretty good, but we have sectors where there is real need.”
A new tenure-track hire in science disciplines can cost UK up to $800,000 for salary and research space, Cassone said.
He has championed the idea of hiring more full-time lecturers, who are expected to do more teaching than research. Those lecturers receive health insurance and other benefits, and eventually could be promoted to tenure-track professors.
Administrators in biology and at the College of Arts and Science have helped Cassone work out staffing issues, but he still would like to see more faculty hires.
“I can’t say they’re not doing a great job, but there’s still a lot of them,” he said of the administrators.
Mark Meier, chairman of the Department of Chemistry, said his department also needs more faculty.
“I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that, because the enrollments have gone up so much,” Meier said. “There’s no question we need to hire more people.”
However, Meier said, he’s sympathetic to the need for more administrators to oversee the ever-growing responsibilities of big universities, including housing, transportation, athletics, financial aid and student counseling.
“So administrative growth has raged across the country,” he said. “Part of it has to be a proliferation in students services.”
Robert Grossman is a chemistry professor who serves as a faculty representative on the UK Board of Trustees.
“Sections have gotten bigger, and we’ve had to add more of them,” he said. “We will always say, yes we need more research faculty, but there are limitations on money and space.”
UK is unique, one of a handful of land grant universities with a medical center, an extension service and a huge athletics program, Grossman said. All of these branches might require UK to have more administrators than other schools.
“It’s incredibly difficult to compare to other universities,” he said. “At the same time, you always need to keep up the pressure on the administration to really justify those positions.”