December 22, 2015

The Rise in College Administrative Staff

Times have changed. If you went to college in the 1960s or ‘70s you likely remember having close relationships with your professors. The professor of the mid-20th century was seemingly always available, always at college and provided valuable mentoring to students.

Why Full-Time Matters

Student relationships with their faculty are an important part of the college experience. According to a paper entitled “Faculty Matter: So Why Doesn’t Everyone Think So?” by Adrianna Kezar and Dan Maxey, by having access to their professors, students tend to have higher graduation rates, better grades, and a better long-term career outlook. In addition to these quantitative benefits, Kezar and Maxey also claim students benefit from professor interaction by improving qualitative skills such as critical thinking and leadership.

I think we’re all in agreement that faculty is an important part (if not the most important part) of a student’s college education. Unfortunately, in the later 20th century, the focus on permanent faculty took a back seat to institutions combating “rising costs” and “increasing scholarly flexibility”.

Institutions realized that full-time tenured faculty were expensive to their bottom line. Instead of focusing on tenured faculty, they could save some money and increase “flexibility” by hiring part-time or adjunct faculty. According to data from the Department of Education, only 51% of college professors are full time.

Growth in Administrative Staff

So why hasn’t tuition decreased as a result of all this cost cutting? One reason is the rise in administrative staff. In a paper by Jon Marcus entitled “New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom in Higher Ed Administrators”, Marcus states that between 1987 and 2012, the number of temporary faculty increased greatly while full-time faculty fell. During the same period, the number of administrative staff more than doubled – having added more than 500,000 administrative and professional employees. 

As alluded to in the opening paragraph – In 2013, part-time instructional staff made up over 50% of the faculty at most institutions. In the 1980s, only a third of faculty were part-time.

Administrative staff is necessary to keep a college running smoothly. And colleges have argued that they need more administrators to keep up with federal regulations and to provide other services requested by students. But one has to wonder if the dramatic rise in administrators is really worth the cost, especially when coupled with the decline in full-time teachers.

So what does this mean to your child? Part-time faculty typically have multiple institutions they teach for. Part-time faculty have reduced office hours and often can’t spend as much time helping students because of their other commitments. Part-time faculty are also often hired just to teach. They don’t perform many of the additional critical activities their full-time cohorts perform such as program development and assessment planning.

Meanwhile, the increasing number of administrative (non-instructional) positions has had a direct effect on the institution’s ever-increasing tuition rates.

Choosing the Right School

When searching for colleges, pay attention to the percent of full-time faculty. Not every school needs to have 100% full-time teachers, but in general the higher the number the better.

You can see this easily when checking the overview page of any school in College Factual’s directory, or the faculty composition page. For example, looking up my alma mater – the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities shows the school has a higher than average percentage of full-time instructors. You can find a lot of other information on this page including the number and percent of adjunct professors as well as the trend over the last five years.

Faculty compensation, expenditures per student, student to faculty ratio, and the percentage of full-time teachers are also weightings in our Best Overall rankings as well as rankings by major. By completing the matching system through College Factual students will be guided to the colleges that fit them best individually, as well as some of the top-ranked schools that meet their preferences for location and major.

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