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During a Republican presidential debate in Michigan on Nov. 9, 2011, Newt Gingrich denounced the federal student loan program as a way for students to stay in school longer, blindly tolerant of how expensive college has become "because they don't see the cost."
Then he cited a surprising statistic. "By 2014," Gingrich said during the debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., "there will be one administrator for every teacher on college campuses in the United States."
We located an April story in the print and online literary magazine n+1 that made mention of a similar figure. Author Malcolm Harris wrote, "If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges."
When we contacted Harris for his source, he pointed us to a study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a Washington-based group that studies "the rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education."
The report said, "The growth of non-instructional staff is so fast that if these job growth trends were to continue, the number of managers and support staff (administration) at four-year, not-for-profit colleges would outnumber instructors by 2014. Using the average annual percentage increase between 1997 and 2007 for each of the three job categories (managers, support staff and instructors) as the respective rate of growth, and combining support staff and managers into one category as administration."
To back up this finding, the report cited statistics culled from the Integrated Post-secondary Education Data System, a database produced by the Department of Education.
So Gingrich has some support for his claim.
An important caveat is that different people may use a different definition of "administrator" in the college setting. In the Center for College Affordability and Productivity study, "administrator" refers to the aggregate of "executive, administrative, and managerial" positions and "other professional staff," including support staff. But that’s a pretty broad definition.
Jane Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project, a Washington-based policy group, which has also studied this issue notes that "the ‘professional and technical’ category includes student service people, financial aid administrators, researchers, clinicians, nurses and other hospital employees, computer people, etc. The ‘executive, administrative and managerial’ are the front-line college administrators, and they’re a fairly small category."
Complicating matters further is that changes in hiring patterns have meant that the number of instructional personnel has been rising even as total spending on instruction has been rising more slowly than administrative costs.
A story published in the Washington Monthly that cited the Delta Cost Project’s work noted that "between 1998 and 2008, America’s private colleges increased spending on instruction by 22 percent while increasing spending on administration and staff support by 36 percent."
Yet somewhat paradoxically, faculty represented a growing share of college employees between 2000 and 2008, mostly because of increases in hiring of part-time faculty. "One of the major trends in college staffing is the growth in part-time instructors relative to full-time instructors," said Daniel L. Bennett, research fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity
The author of the Washington Monthly article, Johns Hopkins University political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg, wrote that if universities gave faculty members more influence and let them handle more administrative work in addition to teaching, "more resources might be available for educational programs and student support, the actual items for which parents, donors, and funding agencies think they are paying."
A final point: Much of the teaching load at universities today is handled by graduate students rather than faculty members.
Gingrich said during the debate that "by 2014, there will be one administrator for every teacher on college campuses in the United States." A study by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity backs up that claim. But it uses a broad definition of "administrator," and narrower definitions would make the statement incorrect. In addition, faculty represented a growing share of college employees between 2000 and 2008, in part because of the growth in part-time instructors. On balance, we rate the claim Half True.
n+1, "Bad Education," by Malcolm Harris, April 2011
The Washington Monthly, "Administrators Ate My Tuition," September/October 2011
Center for College Affordability and Productivity, "25 Ways to Reduce the Cost of College," 2010
E-mail interview with Jane Wellman, the Delta Cost Project, Nov. 10, 2011
E-mail interview with Gay Clyburn, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Nov. 10, 2011
E-mail interview with Debra Humphreys, Association of American Colleges and Universities, Nov. 10, 2011
E-mail interview with Sara Gast, U.S. Department of Education, Nov. 10, 2011
E-mail interview with Malcolm Harris, journalist, Nov. 11, 2011
E-mail interview with Daniel L. Bennett, research fellow at the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Nov. 11, 2011
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