Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators

New England Center for Investigative Reporting  | by  Jon Marcus
Posted: 02/06/2014 11:56 am EST Updated: 02/06/2014 5:59 pm EST

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The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty, according to an analysis of federal figures.

The disproportionate increase in the number of university staffers who neither teach nor conduct research has continued unabated in more recent years, and slowed only slightly since the start of the economic downturn, during which time colleges and universities have contended that a dearth of resources forced them to sharply raise tuition.

In all, from 1987 until 2011-12—the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 every working day, according to the analysis of federal figures, by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science research group the American Institutes for Research.

“There’s just a mind-boggling amount of money per student that’s being spent on administration,” said Andrew Gillen, a senior researcher at the institutes. “It raises a question of priorities.”

Universities have added these administrators and professional employees even as they’ve substantially shifted classroom teaching duties from full-time faculty to less-expensive part-time adjunct faculty and teaching assistants, the figures show.

“They’ve increased their hiring of part-time faculty to try and cut costs,” said Donna Desrochers, a principal researcher at the Delta Cost Project, which studies higher-education spending. “Yet other factors that are going on, including the hiring of these other types of non-academic employees, have undercut those savings.”

Part-time faculty and teaching assistants now account for half of instructional staffs at colleges and universities, up from one-third in 1987, the figures show.

During the same period, the number of administrators and professional staff has more than doubled. That’s a rate of increase more than twice as fast as the growth in the number of students.

It’s not possible to tell exactly how much the rise in administrators and professional employees has contributed to the increase in the cost of tuition and fees, which has also almost doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1987 at four-year private, nonprofit universities and colleges, according to the College Board. Those costs have also nearly tripled at public four-year universities—a higher price rise than for any other sector of the economy in that period, including healthcare.

But critics say the unrelenting addition of administrators and professional staffs can’t help but to have driven this steep increase.

At the very least, they say, the continued hiring of nonacademic employees belies university presidents’ insistence that they are doing everything they can to improve efficiency and hold down costs.

“It’s a lie. It’s a lie. It’s a lie,” said Richard Vedder, an economist and director of theCenter for College Affordability and Productivity.

“I wouldn’t buy a used car from a university president,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’re making moves to cut costs,’ and mention something about energy-efficient lightbulbs, and ignore the new assistant to the assistant to the associate vice provost they just hired.”

The figures are particularly dramatic at private, nonprofit universities, whose numbers of administrators alone have doubled, while their numbers of professional employees have more than doubled.

Rather than improving productivity as measured by the ratio of employees to students, private universities have seen their productivity decline, adding 12 employees per 1,000 full-time students since 1987, the federal figures show.

“While the rest of the economy was shrinking overhead, higher education was investing heavily in more overhead,” said Robert Martin, an economist at Centre College in Kentucky who studies university finance who said staffing per students is a valid way to judge efficiency improvements or declines.

The ratio of nonacademic employees to faculty has also doubled. There are now two nonacademic employees at public and two and a half at private universities and colleges for every one full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty.

“In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate—executives would lose their jobs,” analysts at the financial management firm Bain & Company wrote in a 2012 white paper for its clients and others about administrative spending in higher education.

Universities and university associations blame the increased hiring on such things as government regulations and demands from students and their families—including students who arrive unprepared for college-level work—for such services as remedial education, advising, and mental-health counseling.

“All of those things pile up, and contribute to this increase,” said Dan King, president of the American Association of University Administrators.

“I think there’s legitimate criticism” of the growth in hiring of administrators and other nonacademic employees, said King. “At the same time, you can’t lay all of the responsibility for that on the universities.”

There are “thousands” of regulations governing the distribution of financial aid alone, he said. “And probably every college or university that’s accredited, they’ve got at least one person with a major portion of their time dedicated to that, and in some cases whole office staffs. These aren’t bad things to do, but somebody’s got to do them.”

Since 1987, universities have also started or expanded departments devoted to marketing, diversity, disability, sustainability, security, environmental health, recruiting, technology, and fundraising, and added new majors and graduate and athletics programs, satellite campuses, and conference centers.

Some of these, they say—such as beefed-up fundraising and marketing offices—pay for themselves, and sustainability efforts save money through energy efficiency.

Others “often show up in student referenda, to build or add services,” said George Pernsteiner, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. “The students vote for them. Students and their families have asked for more, and are paying more to get it.”

Pressure to help students graduate more quickly—or at all—has also driven the increase in professional employees “to try to more effectively serve the students who are coming in today,” Pernsteiner said.

But naysayers point out that the doubling of administrative and professional staffs doesn’t seem to have improved universities’ performance. Since 2002, the proportion of four-year bachelor’s degree-seeking students who graduate within even six years, for instance, has barely inched up, from 55 percent to 58 percent, U.S. Department of Education figures show.

“If we have these huge spikes in student services spending or in other professional categories, we should see improvements in what they do, and I personally haven’t seen that,” Gillen said.

Martin said it’s true that adding services beyond teaching and research is fueling the growth of campus payrolls. But he said universities don’t have to provide those services themselves. “They can outsource them, the way that corporations do.”

To provide such things as security and counseling, said Martin, “You can hire outside firms, on a contract basis with competitive bidding. All these activities are a distraction from what the institution is supposed to be doing.”

Universities and colleges continued adding employees even after the beginning of the economic downturn, though at a slightly slower rate, the federal figures show.

“Institutions have said that they were hurting, so I would have thought that staffing overall would go down,” Desrochers said. “But it didn’t.”

There’s also been a massive hiring boom in central offices of public university systems and universities with more than one campus, according to the figures. The number of employees in central system offices has increased six-fold since 1987, and the number of administrators in them by a factor of more than 34.

One example, the central office of the California State University System, now has abudget bigger than those of three of the system’s 23 campuses.

“None of them have reduced campus administrative burdens at all,” said King, who said he is particularly frustrated by this trend. “They’ve added a layer of bureaucracy, and in 95 percent of the cases it’s an unnecessary bureaucracy and a counterproductive one.”

Centralization has been promoted as a way to reduce costs, but Vedder points out that it has not appeared to reduce the rate of hiring of administrators and professional staffs on campus—or of incessant spikes in tuition.

“It’s almost Orwellian,” said Vedder. “They’ll say, ‘We’ll save money if we centralize.’ Then they hire a provost or associate provost or an assistant business manager in charge of shared services, and then that person hires an assistant, and you end up with more people than you started with.”

In higher education, “Everyone now is a chief,” he said. “And there are a lot fewer Indians.”

This story was prepared by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news center based at Boston University and WGBH Radio/TV.

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From New Wave to Punkonomics

August 15, 2013 – by Jeffrey Billman

Professor Benjamin Balak’s life has been anything but typical.

If you know where to look, you can find the video on YouTube. You may not be able to understand it (it’s in Hebrew) and it is certainly of its era (the mid-’80s), both the music and look. There are familiar music video tropes—the singer, with his dark sunglasses and dour appearance, coolly dragging on a cigarette; a second-too-long close-up of a woman’s derriere—but the music still holds up well nearly three decades on.

This was, the singer recounted many years later, the first-ever Hebrew language music video, made with “borrowed” Israeli military equipment. The band’s earlier work had been more punk-inspired, but this New Wave sound was a deliberate effort to go pop, to reach a more mass audience. And it worked—not on a global scale, perhaps, but certainly around Tel Aviv.

This afternoon, a Monday in early August, that clean-cut singer is in the WPRK studio, with sprawling hair and a five o’clock shadow, wearing a wrinkled shirt that says “Level ?? Humanoid” and talking about the new Dr. Who, who will not be a woman, which he says is indicative of a misogynistic system. The show is Punkonomics, a weekly public affairs program leavened by professor Beni Balak’s cynical humor and passion for social justice. And so, on this program, which features a conversation with a local immigration reform activist, you hear Balak say things like “Our show is committed to equal opportunity hate. It is our founding principle.”

Balak, now a professor of economics at Rollins, abandoned his rock star dreams the second he finished his mandatory three-year military stint back in Israel. He was an electrical engineer in the military, steering clear of combat by virtue of being his mother’s only son. His job, essentially, was to repair equipment, which he did by day and played music by night. But when he was done, he was done.

“I warned everybody ahead of time,” he says. “I need[ed] to see the world.”

There was a record contract dangled in front of him, but no sooner was he discharged than he hopped a train to France. Being the front man, that pretty much killed his band. (The members still remain in contact and occasionally record over the Internet, including a song they wrote a couple years ago in support of Occupy Wall Street. Their tunes are still played on Israeli oldies stations, Balak says.)

His parents were then in Paris, where his father ran a fashion marketing business. They had years before been a family of diplomats. Balak’s mother, in fact, was an assistant to then-Foreign Minister (and later Prime Minister) Golda Meir. They were on a diplomatic assignment to Madagascar when Balak was born, though they didn’t stay there long enough for him to form any memories of the place. His parents became critics of Israeli foreign policy, something that rubbed off on their son. “The Peace Now movement basically started in my parents’ kitchen,” Balak says.

In Paris, Balak learned French, and then became taken with the American notion of a liberal arts education. He went to the American College (now University) in Paris, where the school cafeteria’s beer taps would open at 1 p.m. His fondest memories revolve around drinking with his professors after class, something he regrets not being able to do at Rollins, as he learned as much during those sessions as he did in class. He first wanted to study business administration—he was a “major fashionista” in the late ’80s, though you wouldn’t know it to look at him today, and hung out backstage with models; back then, he thought about taking over his father’s company—but found it dull and switched to economics.

I really like the whole learning thing,” he says. “I’m a professor because I stayed in school.

“I really like the whole learning thing,” he says. “I’m a professor because I stayed in school.”

His senior year marked the beginning of the end of Communism—1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. He spent lots of time in East Berlin, this undiscovered country that had for so long been walled off, mainly on weekends. “It was really exciting times to study economics,” he says. They would take class trips behind the old Iron Curtain to compare curricula and had a front-row seat as the European Union took shape.

He wasn’t quite sure what to do after that. Balak ended up in England, at the University of Kent, where he did a year of postgraduate work. It was, in a sense, something to do, a way to pass the time in school. When he was done, he and his now-wife Charlotte Trinquet—they met socially in Paris, but didn’t become a couple until later—decided that they wanted to pursue PhDs in America. (She also now teaches at Rollins.)

“But that takes time,” he says. “So we went to live a year in Prague. It was wild times. Wild, wild times. I have pictures from that era. Some things that cannot be shared.”

They ended up at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, where Balak earned a PhD in economics and Trinquet earned hers in French literature, and they had a child. For practical purposes—so that Trinquet could keep her health insurance while on maternity leave—they went to Las Vegas when she was seven months pregnant and were married by an Elvis impersonator.

Academically, Balak had somewhat peculiar interests. “I learned enough math to learn that most of it is [expletive] when it comes to economics,” he says. He was more focused on the history of economic thought and methodology, looking at the field in a more philosophical way. This wasn’t a traditional approach. But UNC supported him nonetheless, and before he graduated he was a teacher’s assistant and then taught his own microeconomics course—and in the process, he fell in love with teaching itself.

After graduation, he took a yearlong visiting professor gig at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. The school offered to renew his contract, but it didn’t have any permanent positions available. With his experience in the classroom, he began looking for a permanent home. He found it at Rollins, which didn’t offer him just a job but also a chance to innovate in the actual teaching of economics. For much of the last half century, he says, undergraduate classrooms have been giving students bad information, relying on outdated modalities and textbooks. He wanted to change that.

Since the ’90s, when I was a graduate student, there’s been a movement of reforming economics education because it’s a sham,” he says. “These guys [at Rollins] were well ahead of the curve.

He arrived in 2002. Over the last decade, Balak has taken a two-pronged approach to reform: First, broadening the department’s content beyond traditional neoclassical economics theories to include other perspectives; and second, to bring in more technology—documentaries, video games, and so on. (He’s something of a big gamer; in fact, he brags about playing the very first video game, Star Trek, back in the mid-’70s. It was all text and no graphics. Today he plays video games with his kids.)

Balak was also an early adopter to Facebook, and began teaching in Facebook groups. The groups were closed to the general public, so as to protect students’ privacy, but every once in awhile an outsider would catch a glimpse. “You’d have people like, ‘Oh, my cousin checked out the group, he thought it was so cool.’ There was always that buzz of like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to open this up a little bit.”

That sentiment, he says, led to the Punkonomics radio show. “I feel really good about it,” Balak says, “because I do think there’s a role [for faculty at WPRK].” That show—though he has no idea how many people listen to it—is his way of being a “public intellectual,” an academic whose thoughts and insights don’t live solely within an ivory tower.

“It’s a lot of work,” he says. “It’s a labor of love.”

English translation:

My name is Itzik (archaic Israeli name)
(Words and music by Eyal Linur)

A herd of people passes in the street
Each one of them is looking at me
I watch them with a beer in my hand
Light a cigarette and go to the side

The sun shows signs of disappearing
And I recite to my self some stupidity
Life flows on but I spill out
There’s only one thing I must have…

My name is Itzik!
And I think that the world is beautiful!
My name is Itzik
And I think the world is great!

Later I go back to my bed
And watch TV until very late
I don’t get off on any of the shows
I’m just in love with my news presenter

(Psychedelic freak-out:)
And the dogs keep barking
And the dogs keep barking
I’m beginning to hear the voices
Stains of fat! Stains of fat!
Are oozing from the walls
I look behind me, in front of me, beside me
And I am it, I am it
Everybody’s looking for the killer
But I’m sick of playing the game…

My name is Itzik
And I think that the world is beautiful!
My name is Itzik
I think the world is great!


Addendum (not in original bio article):
Here’s the song we recorded during the #occupy days  a little over a year ago.
More can be found on my YouTube channel

I’ve been using games to teach for over 8 years now mostly Civilization in my Economics in Historical Perspective but a little bit of WoW in my Freshmen Seminar (pompously titled Deus Ex Machina: Social Evolution in Virtual Worlds). I’ve been working in quasi isolation presenting papers to economists with little or no experience in gaming and/or teaching with them. I finally discovered 3DGameLab and used their tools to fully gamify my Economics, Media, and Propaganda this summer and am hard at work to gamify my other courses including a new freshmen seminar on WoW next week!

Yesterday I joined with Cognitive Dissonance as part of the WoW in schools teacher camp on 3DGamelab and it’s was uber-fun: sitting around at the Pig & Whistle inn in-world and talking about WoW in education…

We have discussed education on Punkonomics in the past both in posts as well as on the radio-show / podcast. I should invite some of these 3DGameLab and Cognitive Dissonance people as guests because unlike the overwhelming hype we hear about technology in education, THIS is where it’s really at!

So anyway, here’s my 3DGameLab badge to show off for XP in “The Academy” group (where teachers game to learn how to gamify):


Hmmm. Sounds familiar to most of us in the education industrial complex (except the idiots who buy this sort of crap about “leaders” and “job creators” being good at anything but grift) >:/

Another great article by the inimitable Yves Smith from Naked Capitalism:

NYU Administrators Create Student Debt Slaves to Subsidize Summer Homes, Ginormous Pensions « naked capitalism.