There were two articles in the Herald-Leader during the same week that struck me as ironic.
In one, the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees announced that UK needed $3 billion in renovation and new construction; the other reported that Irina Voro, a faculty trustee, was unable to get information about administrative staffing at UK.
With the state's budget issues, unfunded liabilities and the global sovereign debt problem, the school's wish list seems intemperate. Further, Voro's information request clearly dealt with a serious cost-control issue for the university. So, what is the message from the board? Is it concerned about costs at all?
UK did not exactly refuse to give Voro the information; officials applied a bureaucratic shuffle, saying the request had to go through the board chairman and should not be made by an individual trustee.
The response also implied that there were some confidentiality issues with revealing administrative staffing, which is a curious statement since faculty staffing is readily available and UK is a public institution, so its staffing is supposed to be an open record.
The notion that a trustee should not have that information is at least alarming.
Voro's curiosity about staffing was aroused by a recent report she read concerning the relationship between rising administrative staffs and increasing costs. Perhaps she read the Goldwater Institute's report "Administrative Bloat at American Universities: The Real Reason for Higher Cost in Higher Education" or the Center for College Affordability's "How College Pricing Undermines Affordability."
These are just two studies that document declining administrative productivity in colleges and universities.
Had Voro read the Goldwater study, she would have learned that at public universities, from 1993 to 2007, the number of administrators per 100 students grew from 5.7 to 7.9, a 39 percent increase. During that same time, the number of instructors, researchers and service faculty grew from 5.4 to 6.0 per 100 students — a 10 percent increase.
If you start earlier, say 1976, the rise in administrators is even more dramatic. Can universities "administer" themselves to greatness? It is a fair question.
Universities have shared governance, and today administrators outnumber the faculty. Under shared governance, resources flow to the largest and most powerful constituency. Today, that is administration.
Note that these trends represent declines in productivity. Now, you might be able to argue that increasing the number of faculty relative to the number of students is an investment in education quality, but it would be a difficult case to make that more administrators leads to higher quality.
Consider what happened in the rest of the economy over this same time frame. Technology led to significant improvements in administrative overhead, and organizations flattened their overhead, taking out multiple layers of middle management. Why has the opposite happened among universities and colleges?
The crisis of student debt — now larger than outstanding credit card debt — and the rising share of household income taken by higher education drives college access lower each year. And that drives economic mobility lower and contributes to rising inequality in the income distribution.
Makes you wonder why students think Wall Street has anything to do with college costs.