A Modest Educational Proposal

Over at Reason (which, by the way, is hiring), there’s a blog post about an assortment of budget cuts former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has made at Purdue, where he is now president. I offer no comment as to the goodness or badness of such measures in this case, although the fact that the school’s administration had grown by nearly 75% over the prior 13 years may be of interest.

What got my attention was the following comment from reader “Don’tShootMe”:

The ACA requires insurance companies to spend at least 85% of premium revenue on medical care. What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. Require any institution that has students that are getting federal loans to spend 85% on “instruction.” Otherwise, no student loans. Since the administrative elites think that is such a good solution for medical care, see how they like it for education.

Obviously this would be over the top at a place like Mondoville; buildings must be maintained, for example, and because we’re so small (even crying poverty in the opening of our alma mater: “Though small, nor rich in worldly goods…”), just keeping the physical plant running might well be more than 15% of our income. Furthermore, a significant portion of administrative jobs are created as a result of the tangles of laws, regulations, and accreditation standards that act as what would elsewhere be called “unfunded mandates.” Even so, one wonders if the commenter may be on to something.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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4 Responses to A Modest Educational Proposal

  1. ricki says:

    It IS an interesting idea. But you are right; just dealing with the changes to the ADA are enough of a hassle (and thank goodness, we now have a J.D. with a specialization in this kind of law as our Disabilities Services director).

    I will say: I don’t know how much “justification of their jobs” admins have to do. We have to write a narrative every year, including things like teaching evaluation scores, “ways we’ve improved,” and “scholarly productivity” as part of post-tenure review. I’ve never HEARD of anyone getting tenure revoked for failing or refusing to do it, but I’m not about to test that concept myself. And supposedly someone who is sub-par in their work for a couple years running is told to straighten up and fly right or they are let go. As I said, I have no idea what the admins do and maybe they have to do even worse stuff than the profs here do. So while someone like an ADA coordinator would be deemed “vital to the operation of the university,” perhaps a Vice-Preseident for Students Having Fun (not a real title) would be deemed not-so-vital and that position somehow downsized. (I’m guessing administrative positions have to be eliminated by attrition, rather than telling the person, “Sorry, as of next semester, we don’t have a position for you any more.”)

    Another place where tuition bloat comes in that I see: parents and students expecting country-club-like settings, with dormitory suites far nicer than any apartment I ever paid rent on, “free” cable and internet for students, up-to-the-minute computer labs and workout facilities, “food courts” to cater to various gustatory whims, parking lots so every student can bring their car to campus….

  2. Matt says:

    Physical plant and other maintenance costs are rather fixed, as you point out. Assuming that “instruction expenses” would best be proxied by personnel costs for lecturers, T.A.s, lab assistants and the like, perhaps an alternative would be to say that 85% of payroll must be on instruction-related personnel.

    You still run into an issue with maintenance, food service, janitorial staff and the like. You also run into pay level discrepancy issues. Teachers should be justly compensated, and their compensation levels can and should be higher than other entry level positions, so I’m not sure how you balance that.

    85% of headcount, perhaps?

    In short, I agree with the principle that too much is spent on administrative overhead, but I don’t see an easy way to fix it.

    In fact, as a side note, I was involved in a conversation at a band boosters meeting the other day, up here in Boone County. With all of the various requirements put on administrative staff these days, it’s almost impossible for them to get their real jobs done. One of the high schools has 4 administrators, and they are required to do class room observations to evaluate teachers, teacher coaching, and all of those personnel management and training requirements. They also have to deal with student discipline. As one person put it, “If there’s a fight, we lose an administrator for 2 full days just documenting and dealing with that issue.” So that’s two days they can’t do anything else.

    As you pointed out, it’s no wonder administrative overhead is increasing. They are being asked to do too much.

    Perhaps that should be an enlightening realization. . .

  3. Pingback: Tuesday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion | Clarissa's Blog

  4. Jimmy Huck says:

    As we all know, a liberal arts education at a residential college/university is not exclusively about classroom instruction. One could argue that intramural sports programs, glee clubs, concert halls, chapels, ROTC programs, student health clinics, residential hall pizza parties and ropes courses, etc., etc., are not just services, but are instrumental in a student’s overall education in ways that a claims processor at an insurance company is not instrumental in a person’s physical health. So how do we agree on where to classify things — such as a Provost’s salary — in that 85%/15% split?

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