Tuesday, April 21, 2009

How Many Administrators Does It Take To File A Department Of Education Report?

Two. One to file the report, one to respond the barrage of stupid newspaper articles written about the report after the data is crunched by a non-profit conservative think tank.

This half-assed joke is a response to an article by Tamar Lewin in today's New York Times that ran under the headline "Staff Jobs On Campus Outpace Enrollment." The data, taken from Department of Education reports filed by 2,782 colleges and analyzed by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, shows that public and private colleges have about the same ratio of staff to student (8 and 9 per 100, respectively) and have bloated at about the same rate since 1987. Lewin writes,

In the 20-year period, the report found, the greatest number of jobs added, more than 630,000, were instructors — but three-quarters of those were part-time. Converted to full-time equivalents, those resulted in a total of 939,00 teaching jobs, up from 614,000 in 1987.

The largest number of full-time jobs added, more than 278,000, were for support staffs, and grew to more than half a million positions in 2007, from 292,000 in 1987. Colleges also added some 65,000 management positions, almost all of them full time; all told, they had 185,000 managers in 2007, up from about 120,000 managers 20 years earlier.

“Colleges have altered the composition of their work force by steadily increasing the number of managerial positions and support/service staff, while at the same time disproportionately increasing the number of part-time staff that provides instruction,” the report said. “Meanwhile, employee productivity relative to enrollment and degrees awarded has been relatively flat in the midst of rising compensation.”

Blah, blah, blah. Nowhere does Lewin suggest that fewer instructors could have been added if more of them had full-time jobs, or that actually most schools are actually understaffed. In fact, the way that this number is simply dropped into the piece as a comparative figure suggests that hiring hundreds of thousands of professors at servant wages and no benefits is not such a bad model for higher education, and perhaps something we might want to think about for administrators too.

Lewin notes that CCAP doesn't claim tuition increases are caused only by administrative bloat; cuts in state financing for higher education are also a factor she mentions (briefly). But - irresponsibly, in my view -- Lewin emphasizes the report's finding that students are paying the price of bad management decisions all the same, decisions that are the wasteful outcome of students' intense desire to be pampered, to be coddled and play! In other words, just like homophobia and mortage rates that adjust beyond people's ability to pay, tuition increases are a lifestyle issue.

Interestingly, CCAP seems to be located at The Ohio State University. Ohio is a state that has set the pace for destroying alternative education by its onerous accountability regulations. The authors of the report actually name the constant need to respond to government agencies as a critical factor in administrative bloat ("I've got an idea, boys," the economist said brightly. Let's get rid of the people who adjudicate racial and gender bias on campus and make room for more statisticians who do 'outcomes assessment.'")

And yet, much as I find this position dishonest and irrelevant to major issues in higher education today -- like the desire to escalate the testing mandate to include college students, the tax dollars that have been shifted to incarceration rather than education, and the ways in which the poor are structurally excluded from even imagining a college education -- it is a position and Lewin ignores it almost completely. It takes going to the CCAP website to figure it who they are, and reveal that the CCAP are not impartial observers with no agenda. What Lewin privileges in her article instead is the increase in student services that students are being "forced" to pay for -- but that they have foolishly demanded all the same. That's right -- blame the student/consumer: not cuts in public funding and financial aid, higher enrollments that are necessary to keep a college or university afloat in a politically hostile environment, or the many administrators who are hired to respond to idiotic questions about "degree productivity." Instead, we have this quote from the report's author that does not characterize the majority of the CCAP findings:

“A lot of it is definitely trying to keep up with the Joneses,” said Daniel Bennett, a labor economist and the author of the center’s report. “Universities and colleges are catering more to students, trying to make college a lifestyle, not just people getting an education. There’s more social programs, more athletics, more trainers, more sustainable environmental programs.” Read the report for yourself here.

Neither the article or the report talks about actual education, however. Indeed, and my comrade Margaret Soltan over at University Diaries is gonna love this, "more athletics" is just dropped in there, as if it is men's wrestling or women's crew that is jacking up tuition dollars, not taking your crappy, third-rate football team up to D-I and building them a $3 million stadium; or paying a coach $1.6 million a year.

Yeah, let's blame Title IX. Or better yet, let's just be direct and blame women, throwing in the men who aren't masculine enough to play big money sports for good measure.

And this is where Lewin's decision to produce this article as if it were written in an ideological and conceptual vacuum is, in my view, truly bad journalism. To quote from CCAP's mission statement, it "is dedicated to research on the issues of rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education, with special emphasis on the United States." It goes on to explain:

“Affordability” means not only rising tuition and other costs to the consumer of education services, but more broadly the burden that colleges impose on society. “Productivity” refers not only to the costs and resources needed to educate students and perform research, but also to the measurement and quality of educational outcomes. CCAP is also concerned about finding new ways to do things better – to improve affordability and productivity. In particular, it is interested in how the forces of the market can be used to make higher education more affordable and qualitatively better.

In other words, CCAP isn't actually interested in how teaching or learning actually happens, or indeed, what it means to be a student, a teacher or an administrator. It is interested in minimizing "the burdens" education places on society and maximizing the production of the cheapest degrees possible.


historiann said...

Here's an interesting coincidence. One of the in-house right-wing columnists for the Denver Post today ran a column headlined "Higher ed, higher salaries," in which he notes the inflated compensation packages for various Colorado chancellors and University presidents. (He graciously acknowledges that faculty salaries haven't been keeping up the pace!)


I agree with him that the money the top admins make is obscene, especially when it's not shared with faculty and staff at all. But I wonder if the memo was issued from Pittsburgh (Scaife) or Lynchburg (Liberty U.) commanding all conservative columnists to write on this topic this week.

dance said...

More coincidences. There's an even weaker take on the same subject from a blog at The Economist: link here.

JackDanielsBlack said...

There is another report on this study in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education that makes the same points as rhe article you deal with but adds some collaborating quotes from other sources. In addition to non-educators taking a larger slice of the post-secondary education pie, it seems to me that two other signs of trouble in academe are escalating tuition rates (far higher than the inflation rate) and the attempt to grow endowments by making risky bets in hedge funds and the like without proper accounting for risk (let's all emulate Yale.) It would appear that the higher education industry, like the financial industry, has been somewhat lacking in responsibility over the past several years and is now properly being called to account.

Susan said...

This is just so dishonest. They mention things like the expansion of IT jobs and satisfying reporting requirements, and then quote Bennett saying it's keeping up with the Joneses. The connection between the expansion of reporting requirements and keeping up with the Joneses is what?

anthony grafton said...

Thanks, TR. These CCAP people not only have a clear ideological bent, but also write in wild generalities (as when their leader, Richard Vedder, discusses the worth of academic research as if it's all the same waste of money). But after all, what's a journalist to do? A trip to Google would take time and thought. Oh, no it wouldn't . . .