Administrative Bloat Is A Nationwide Problem In Higher Education


According to the US Department of Education, the number of administrators in higher education is growing much faster than the number of people who are engaged in actually teaching.

At universities nationwide, employment of administrators jumped 60 percent from 1993 to 2009, 10 times the growth rate for tenured faculty. “Administrative bloat is clearly contributing to the overall cost of higher education,” says Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas. In a 2010 study, Greene found that from 1993 to 2007, spending on administration rose almost twice as fast as funding for research and teaching at 198 leading U.S. universities.

I found this to be the case in North Dakota, specifically. Higher education have long justified big biennial budget increases by selling an “investment” in education. But spending growth has far outpaced enrollment growth. As you can see from the chart below, while full time equivalent enrollment has grown just 11.5% since 2003, general fund appropriations for the university system will have grown over 91% through the next biennium if the North Dakota University System’s latest budget request is met:

And it appears, from employment trends within the university system, that a significant chunk of those employment increases have been going to non-instructional staff:

What you’re looking at is a 3.54% increase in instructional employees (including full-time and part-time faculty and temporary instructors) from the 2003-05 biennium through present, and a 40% increase in non-instructional employees.

This is typical of economic bubbles. The industry seeing the bubble growth grows decadent. We saw it in the banking industry as a result of the housing bubble, where huge salaries and exorbitant perks/bonuses were the rule, and now we’re seeing it in higher education. Campuses get bigger. Administration gets larger. Salaries become more lavish.

Meanwhile, the students on whose backs this bubble has been built are getting behind in their loan payments at alarming rates. And who will be left holding the bag when all this collapses?

The taxpayers.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

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  • headward

    I don’t get why the NDUS isn’t self sustaining or wanting to be. Do they only hire people that fail in the private sector?

    • Rob

      You mean self-sustaining in terms of revenues? As in they wouldn’t have to take tax dollars?

      There’s no way they could survive. The NDUS likes to downplay the tax dollars they get, but they’d have to dramatically downsize operations to survive on their tuition and other revenues.

      I’m not so sure that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Clearly subsidizing higher ed hasn’t made it more affordable.

  • matthew_bosch

    Rob, I appreciate your efforts trying getting the word out on this issue.

    “full time equivalent enrollment has grown just 11.5% since 2003, general fund appropriations for the university system will have grown over 91% through the next biennium if the North Dakota University System’s latest budget request is met”
    How is this not troubling, considering what the rest of the Union has gone through?
    North Dakota has the means to be fiscally sound…

    • Rob

      I think a lot of ND leaders buy into the idea that higher education spending is somehow stimulus spending.

      That’s just not the case.

  • Tim Heise

    UND Law School is one of the cheapist law schools in the country.

    Maybe we should stop subsidizing out of state students.

    • Rob

      Cheapest relatively speaking. But we always get price bubbles when we disconnect consumer and cost as we’ve done with student loans.

  • WOOF

    Neglects the numbers when coaches are culled from the data.

    • Rob

      Why should we take coaches from the data? They have salaries and budgets and benefits too.

      • WOOF

        Are coaches administrators, instructors or revenue producers? Bureaucracies tend to fatten themselves, if for profit or not.

  • Lynn Bergman

    K-12 has the same problem. We need to reject federal funding though, to reduce the administration numbers to 1960 levels (when their were twice the number of students as today), focus on excellence in teaching, and actually see outcomes improve instead of flatlining.

    K-12 Adminstrators are North Dakota’s “on the job retirement” program for teachers no longer interested in making a difference.