Administrative Bloat on Campus: Academia Shrinks, Students Suffer

American campuses have drifted away from academia and toward administration. The shift badly impacts the traditional mission of both college and students. Ideally, college infuses knowledge and critical thinking through a free flow of ideas. But modern campuses are ideological battlefields where real debate is discouraged. Ideally, students are exposed to a wide range of perspectives. Instead, “incorrect” views are silenced because they are punished. Students are the main losers.

Administrative bloat bears significant responsibility for the decline in educational quality and civility. The decline is partly due to the diversion of scarce funds from academia to administration and partly due to the ideological slant of administrative policies rooted in identity politics, such as mandatory sensitivity training on race. Identity politics occurs when people identify as a class based on secondary characteristics, such as gender, rather than as individuals with a shared humanity; some classes are seen to be at war. The policies expressing identity politics create conflict and impoverish education.

Swollen Administrations

Todd J. Zywicki and Christopher Koopman of George Mason University recently published an intriguing study entitled “The Changing of the Guard: The Political Economy of Administrative Bloat in American Higher Education.”

They observed,

Universities have increased spending, but very little of that increased spending has been related to classroom instruction; rather, it is being directed toward non-classroom costs. As a result, there has been a growth in academic bureaucracies, as universities focus on hiring employees to manage or administer people, programs, and regulations. Between 2001 and 2011, these sorts of hires have increased 50% faster than the number of classroom instructors. This trend…has become ubiquitous in…American higher education. (p.2).  [Data draws on WSJ article “Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy—And Tuition.”]

The situation is worsened by the fact that administrators tend to be highly paid. The 2012-13 “Administrators in Higher Education Salary Survey” conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found the average annual salary of a “Chief Executive Officer of a System” in a two-year institution to be $291,132; in a four-year institution, $370,470; in a doctoral context, $431,575. Annual salaries may not render an accurate picture, however, as they do not include benefits or non-salary compensation. The Boston Globe, for example, stated that the President of the UMass system received at least $769,500 in annual compensation “including salary, annual performance bonuses, and car and housing allowances.”

Since administrators must comply with federal or state regulations, most of them also have paid staff. The average hourly wage for an administrative assistant at the University of California is $20.98 per hour or $839 a week based on a 40 hour week or roughly $43,600 annually.

By contrast, a 2015-16 report from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) found the average salary of a tenured professor at a public college to be $78,762. Another AAUP report, however, indicated a sharp decline in tenured instructors. “[O]ver the past four decades, the proportion of…full-time tenured positions has declined by 26 percent and…full-time tenure-track positions has dropped by 50 percent.” Colleges heavily favor less expensive instructors, especially part-time adjunct professors or graduate students. The AAUP stated that, as of 2011, adjunct and part-timers composed 70 percent of college faculties. Adjuncts typically earn between $20,000 and $25,000 annually and have few to no benefits. They are widely considered to be less qualified and less committed than their tenured counterparts, which further deprives students of quality education.

An Example of Administrative Bloat

Data can obscure the sense of the human cost of bloat. Consider an example.

In June 2016, UMass-Boston notified nearly 400 adjunct instructors that their jobs could be eliminated; the instructors constituted 30 percent of the faculty. In April 2017, a WGBH News headline declared “Administrative Bloat Victimizes Students At UMass – And Everywhere.” Harvey Silverglate of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education explained that administrators were “seeking to balance the school’s budget by eliminating ‘at least 20 courses…taught this summer, and more next fall’.” Silverglate called this “perfectly predictable since the cuts are being made by administrators, not academics.” Some classes may have been necessary for students to graduate.

Silverglate added, “UMass is hardly an outlier. Nationally, adjuncts have been replacing tenured faculty at a rate that threatens the heart of the educational system.”

An Under-Discussed Problem with College Administrations

All institutions need administration. But the bureaucratic nature and ideological bent of many college administrations is damaging academic freedom and flow of ideas that learning requires. Again, this is particularly true of policies based on identity politics. An example is the censorship of ideas, words, and attitudes that are deemed “offensive.” In practice, whatever subjectively offends “marginalized” students is censored without regard to the impact on the others.

Professors are not exempt, as the progressive Bret Weinstein recently discovered at Evergreen State College. Weinstein was waylaid in his classroom by a mob of screaming students because he objected to a student campaign to exclude whites from campus for a day. He called it racist. This offended the organizers. Weinstein was subsequently forced to teach his class in a park because he was not safe on campus. The college President declined to suspend Weinstein but agreed to comply with most other demands put forth by the outraged students, whom he called “courageous.”

Dissenting students fare no better and often retreat into silence for self-protection.

Because of “offended” students, works of classical literature by white males are discarded. Some law schools no longer teach about rape. Less than one third of top colleges require history majors to take a single course in American history because it is considered racist. Students are being denied exposure to necessary ideas.

Administrative bloat also crowds out core university functions. Because of administrative bloat, class sizes swell. Universities have innovated to cut corners instead of improve education. They turn to online courses and competency-based education, where students teach themselves and prove their mastery of the material, to cope with shrinking faculty numbers. Students are denied the guidance and mentorship of committed educators.

Administrative bloat is directly opposed to academic excellence and the intellectual well-being of students.

  • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

    This is a good article. I have thought for awhile that all of the government money available to colleges and universities has begun creating an education bubble similar to the housing bubble. Unfortunately all of this cash being showered on the schools has primarily created the same bloated entitled administration similar to what we see in the government k-12 schools. It is sad that many people are being saddled with a lifetime of student loans they are not likely to pay off, just so that they can fund these un-needed things. And then you get to the fact that many universities only serve as indoctrination centers for social justice warriors and communists/socialists.

    • DrOfnothing

      I think this is the new motto of UNC-CH “Indoctrinating centers for social justice warriors and communists/socialists since 1795,” in Latin, of course. It’s just hard to fit on a t-shirt.

      But you should try attending one anyway. Who knows, you might get some actual knowledge to go with all that opinion and hackneyed catchphrases.

      • jandr0

        [you might get some actual knowledge to go with all that opinion and hackneyed catchphrases.]

        How apropos your own comment is of you!

    • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

      Some years ago, there was a website devoted to this topic,, which documented the credential bubble. Almost 40 years ago, the danger was well documented by Randall Collins, The Credential Society (1979), see , where he examines the connections between credential inflation and social stratification.

      Government spending on education, however, is only part of the picture.

      • disqus_nBMMez9Ikj

        The steps need to be taken now. Our schools need to shift some focus back to trades that are needed. We still need electricians, plumbers, carpenters etc. Unfortunately over the past couple of decades we have neglected these highly skilled trades in order to farm them out to illegal immigrants. If we get schools off of this “college for everyone” mentality and focus on promoting good carrers where the kids do not have to invest hundreds of thousands to have a good life then we could get to a balance where there is not a nighmare.

        • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

          Steps need to be taken now? By whom?????

          Not parents — they want their kids to be a middle manager, a doctor, not a plumber or carpenter. Not high school students, because you cannot live comfortably on minimum wage. Not the schools — they make their living selling the dream of upward mobility, and “opportunity.” Certainly not the government — no one is that interested in trades.

          If we still need electricians, plumbers and carpenters, then let the free labor market (i.e., rising wages, entrepreneurial small businesses, etc.) solve the problem.

          I recognize that this is a canard, a red herring of sorts — but it raises an important question, assuming that free markets are *not* addressing the need for tradesmen/women: possible reason, of course, is the low status and low prestige of tradesmen.

          Please note two things: this outcome was intentional in the US; second, this was NOT the case in Germany. See, Hal Hansen, Work, Schools, Educational Governance, and the State: German Vocationalism and the Recasting of American Educational History.

          Hansen explains why we won’t “get schools off of this “college for everyone” mentality and focus on promoting good” careers.

  • J K Brown

    You don’t understand, if colleges don’t keep hiring more and more college graduates to be administrator at inflated wages, the argument that a college degree, especially what passes for a BA these days, leads to higher return than those icky vocational fields will collapse.

  • DrOfnothing

    Everyone in JMC relentlessly praises a “market-driven” HE environment. Market-based institutions run on managerial models. It’s contradictory to bemoan the change for which you are advocating.

    Universities used to be more egalitarian and the administration was made up largely of faculty working part-time as administrators and part-time as teachers and researchers.

    Then state and federal funding was reduced.
    Then student enrolment and tuition was raised to compensate.
    Then fundraising and “student welfare” became central to university’s financial survival.

    If you don’t want universities that follow corporate structures of management, organization, and remuneration, then stop demanding that they operate according to market-based models.

    • Gabriel Hanna

      Then state and federal funding was reduced.

      The private universities did not have state and federal funding for tuition. So what is their excuse for following the same trend?

      That’s one of the problem with the “but state budgets” analysis. First, states are not the only government source for tuition–the Federal government funds tuition indirectly through grants and loans to students. Secondly, states and the federal government fund higher education though research grants, half of which are applied to the universities’ budgets instead of to the researchers.

      Universities are bringing in more money than ever before, because there are more college students than ever before. They need to spend it on something. They choose to spend it on amenities, athletics, and administrators.

      • DrOfnothing

        I’m sorry, but you missed the point of what I was saying, and several of your claims are inaccurate.

        1.) Private universities also receive state and federal funding, indirectly, through public tuition loans.
        2.) Yes, the Federal government funds tuition, but it has not kept pace with rising tuition costs.
        3.) Yes, states and federal governments fund research through grants, and that money is allocated to cover the _costs_ of the research infrastructure in the university. That is to say, it covers lab materials, research assistants, etc. It does not go into the pockets of administrators or some kind of “slush fund” that pays for other things besides the research itself. Believe me, the accounting and audit procedures for state and federal research funds are both detailed and extensive.

        I don’t know where you are getting your figures on university finances, but they are simply incorrect. Private universities, in some cases, lost up to half of their endowments in the great crash. Public universities took a massive hit, since states slashed their funding as well (the UNC system was particularly hard hit, btw But that was not what I was arguing in any case. Instead, we were discussing _how_ they have reorganized themselves, administratively and financially, in response to the decline in public funding.

        As for spending on athletics and amenities, you and I are in agreement. They are spending in these areas because they are following the market-based model advocated by JMC authors, and that is the problem!

    • 48574

      Nice try but market based models doesn’t equal more administration.

      Most notable is the fact corporations of for profit companies the organizations that are most effected by the market have been flattening their management structures for decades not adding layers.

      Adding layers of administration is the government model not market model.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Yes, and NO.

    “American campuses have drifted away from academia and toward administration. The shift badly impacts the traditional mission of both college and students.”
    This is the “yes” part — we are seeing a slow but steady mission shift — **but** this is limited to elite schools. Votech and CCs have not yet sipped the KoolAid. (Why? This is the first clue that we are talking about a culture-wide shift, appearing first in the culture-bearing strata.)

    Yes, some “modern campuses are ideological battlefields” — but what’s missing here is the recognition that this “ideologization” is a global trend, across nations, not just in the US. Not only that, but the trend stretches across the spectrum of organizational forms, across sectors — almost as if the distinctions that we take for granted no longer exist!

    It goes by various names — sector blurring, sector-bending, boundary blurring of organizations, or even “hybrid organizations.” It is a culturally based trend that has caught the attention of sociologists and organizational theorists.

    This is the explanations given here are not valid: you cannot blame this on “administrative bloat,” nor can you blame it on “resource dependency” arguments that talk about restricted funding — and the subsequent need to become “social entrepreneurs.” None of these explanations work, because it is a cultural shift that is engulfing all organizations, not just those in the higher education sector.

    Nor is this “rooted in identity politics,” but extends to a perceived increase in individual efficacy, expanded rights, and an increase in the obligations of the state to citizens. The “social contract” is being re-written by organizations and schools. a

    The rhetoric of efficiency and cost-effectiveness is prominent — look at how student learning metrics now completely dominate the discussion of higher education! That was unthinkable 20 years ago. Same for VAM methods of teacher evaluation. Non-profits routinely include strategic plans (of military origin), output measures, and bureaucratic controls. Organizational forms are converging, according to social theorists, apparently dragging cognitive and ideology along with it.

  • Glen_S_McGhee_FHEAP

    Ever hear of The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education ? They rate schools on Sustainability, like accreditors. Schools respond because they don’t want to be left behind. Other earn a “gold” star for their efforts.

    As I mentioned,
    None of these explanations work, because it is a cultural shift that is engulfing all organizations, not just those in the higher education sector.