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What Do 2,358 College Administrators Do?

American Enterprise Institute adjunct scholar and Ohio University economics Professor Richard Vedder asked a very important question on Bloomberg recently: “What Do 2,358 College Administrators Do?”

The question was posed in response to the news that outgoing Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano was approved as the new president of the University of California’s 10-campus, 234,000-student system. Vedder noted Napolitano will fit right in in the bloated, bureaucratic system.

He pointed out that the system’s central office in Oakland employs a whopping 2,358 full-time employees. So what do they do, The College Fix asks, besides waste taxpayer dollars, contribute to the ever-rising costs of college, and ignore the politicization of the campus?

Wait. It gets worse.

Vedder writes:

… UC’s annual spending exceeds that of most state governments, amounting to roughly $100,000 for each of its students. Much of this is unrelated to instructional function. The university’s bureaucracy is famously monumental, centralized and costly: Aside from a full cohort of administrators and support staff at each of the 10 campuses, the central office in Oakland employs more than 2,000 workers, a staggering number (2,358 full-time employees, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System). There are 10 “divisions” in the Office of the President, for example. Its “external relations” division lists more than 55 managerial-type employees on organizational charts, and that number doesn’t include support personnel.

The “business operations” and “academic affairs” divisions are much larger. One senior non-UC university president said to me once that the central office could be reduced by more than half and the university wouldn’t suffer.

The university took some budgetary hits from the state in recent years but offset them with huge tuition increases. No serious attempt was made to vastly cut costs. How many senior faculty at, say, Berkeley teach more than 200 hours a year? How much of the so-called research by these professors is read or cited? I suspect a lot of it has little impact. How many buildings lie largely dormant for months each year?

… For all its moaning about tight finances, the University of California has largely been financially protected from and blind to the economic reality in the outside world: In the U.S. — and especially California — economic growth has been falling, college costs have been rising faster than incomes, student-loan debt has been piling up, and the labor market has stagnated.

Rather than bring in a leader with a proven record of recognizing the need to re-examine the public university and innovate to face these realities, the university’s Board of Regents has brought in a veteran at managing and perpetuating bureaucracies, one well-connected enough to keep the federal flow of support coming and to shake more money from the state’s already overburdened taxpayers.

Well stated, Dr. Vedder. Well stated.

The sad truth is, the higher education system is broken, and it’s only a matter of time before the bubble bursts.

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