Administrative 'bloat' in higher ed? Not really

University of Maryland an example of responsible stewardship

August 25, 2010

It was recently argued on this page that major universities across the country — including a few in Maryland — are administratively bloated. I agree that institutions of higher education are obliged to be responsible stewards of our funding. But the argument leading to the assessment of university "bloat" was reached through a flawed process.

In the original report referenced in his recent op-ed, Jay P. Greene of the Goldwater Institute acknowledges that in collecting data from the Department of Education, he included two separate categories as constituting administrative employees. The categories "Executive, Administrative, and Managerial" and "Other Professional (Support/Service)" were lumped together, inflating the number of employees the report considered to be administrative.

The authors contend that "Other Professionals" are engaged in administrative functions. This is curious given that the entity from which they culled their data saw fit to categorize them separately. And given that this category includes network systems analysts, computer support specialists, financial aid counselors, academic advisers, librarians, registered nurses, therapists, and others, I am not as inclined to label these men and women as "administrative bloat." In fact, given the explosion in technology requirements, the ramping up of research activities, and the growth in demand for student services, the increase in professional support and professional service positions reflects the demands of the marketplace and the expectations of students and their parents.

In addition, contrary to Mr. Greene's impression that we exist in a world in which "taxpayers are willing to continually increase subsidies for higher education," state support of public universities nationally, on a per-student basis, has been declining for more than two decades and was at the lowest level in 25 years even before the current economic crisis. This comes at a time when demand for higher education continues to increase.

I do agree with the call for improved stewardship. Six years ago, the University System of Maryland (USM) took the initiative to reduce costs through our Effectiveness and Efficiency (E&E) initiative. E&E involved a systematic reexamination and reengineering of both our administrative functions and academic processes to reduce costs, enhance access and raise the student completion rate, while also protecting quality.

The fiscal and academic impacts of this effort speak for themselves. We have removed more than $130 million in direct costs from our budget, while experiencing significant additional savings through cost avoidance. The direct and indirect cost savings in that effort played a key role in USM's ability to keep tuition for full-time, in-state undergraduates frozen for four consecutive academic years.

I also note that both the University System of Maryland institutions cited in Mr. Greene's piece — the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County — have a lower-than-average administrative burden as measured by the Goldwater Institute. In addition, both UMBC and UMCP in the past several years have increased enrollment, the number of degrees issued, and the retention/graduation rates of students.

I get the sense that Mr. Greene and I share the same goal: affordable access to high quality higher education for a growing number of students. I simply don't subscribe to his theory that this can be accomplished by reducing public support and putting an even greater burden on tuition-payers. The Goldwater Institute's own data (appendix B, Table 1) indicates that private universities are shown to have far more professional staff per 100 students than public universities — 15.8 per 100 students for private universities versus only 7.9 for public universities.

The University System of Maryland will continue to meet the educational challenges of increasing accessibility, improving affordability, and enhancing quality. In addition, we will simultaneously work to strengthen the economy through sponsored research activity that has grown from less than a half-billion dollars in 1999 to more than a billion in 2009. And we will continue to stand as a national model of effective and efficient use of our resources.

William E. Kirwan is chancellor of the University System of Maryland. His e-mail is

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