The Journal Gazette

Home Search

Public-college costs lead to finger-pointing

Professors pitted against bureaucrats

– Paul Robinson, chairman of Purdue University’s faculty senate, strode through the halls of a 10-story concrete-and-glass administrative tower.

“I have no idea what these people do,” said Robinson, waving his hand across a row of offices, his voice rising.

The professor of biomedical engineering is leading a faculty revolt against bureaucratic bloat at the Indiana public university. In the past decade, the number of administrative employees jumped 54 percent, almost eight times the growth of tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Purdue has a $313,000-a-year acting provost and six vice and associate vice provosts, including a $198,000 chief diversity officer. It employs 16 deans and 11 vice presidents, among them a $253,000 marketing officer and a $433,000 business school chief.

Administrative costs on college campuses are soaring, crowding out instruction at a time of skyrocketing tuition and $1 trillion in outstanding student loans. At Purdue and other U.S. campuses, bureaucratic growth is pitting professors against administrators and sparking complaints that tight budgets could be spent more efficiently.

“We’re a public university,” said Robinson, 59. “We’re here to deliver a high-quality education at as low a price as possible. Why is it that we can’t find any money for more faculty, but there seems to be an almost unlimited budget for administrators?”

U.S. universities employed more than 230,000 administrators in 2009, up 60 percent from 1993, or 10 times the rate of growth of the tenured faculty, those with permanent positions and job security, according to Education Department data.

Spending on administration has been rising faster than funds for instruction and research at 198 leading U.S. research universities, according to a 2010 study by Jay Greene, an education professor at the University of Arkansas.

“Administrative bloat is clearly contributing to the overall cost of higher education,” Greene said.

Trying to ‘be lean’

Purdue and other public universities that rely on state taxpayers have become a flashpoint for anger about bureaucratic spending. State colleges have long been considered affordable havens for those of modest means, yet have raised tuition faster than their costlier private peers.

The cost to attend Purdue leaped about 60 percent in the past decade. Including room, board and other expenses, undergraduates from Indiana pay $23,000 – out-of-state students $42,000 – similar to other Midwestern public colleges.

“Parents can spend $60,000 to send their kid to Harvard – that’s their choice,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of a 2011 book critical of college administrative spending. “The taxpayers support state universities. It’s much more incumbent on them to justify their costs.”

Purdue says bureaucratic expansion hasn’t led to higher tuition. Rather, state funding, which makes up 13 percent of its budget, hasn’t kept pace with the university’s rising costs, according to Timothy Sands, the school’s acting president.

Purdue has beefed up its staff for fundraising and marketing, partly to attract full-paying students from other states and around the world, Sands said.

To remain a top-ranked university, Purdue also must administer hundreds of millions of dollars in government and industry research grants, Sands said.

“This is a $2.2 billion operation. You’ve got to have some people involved in administering it, managing it, running it, leading it,” Sands said. “We’re about as lean as we can afford to be.”

Purdue officials acknowledge that as administration has expanded, spending on instruction has lagged. The university plans to hire more than 100 engineering professors, with the average full professor receiving a $125,000 salary.

Unlike many other colleges, Purdue hasn’t turned to low-paid, part-time faculty, a move that has offset the declines in tenured professors elsewhere, the school said.

Purdue’s faculty senate, led by Robinson, has taken its complaints to both the trustees and President-elect Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s governor, who says he’s sympathetic.

“When your spending goes up at a rocket rate, it’s pretty hard for state support to keep up,” Daniels said. He plans to look at administrative costs that he suspects are “marbled” throughout the university.

Meanwhile, the debt of the average Purdue graduate who borrowed rose 74 percent in the past decade to about $27,000.

Kyle Pendergast, 20, a junior from Orange County, Calif., heard faculty complaints about administrative spending at a student-government meeting. Pendergast, a student senator, expects to graduate with $20,000 in loans.

“It seems ridiculous that some Purdue administrators make so much money when I don’t know what they do on a daily basis,” said Pendergast, a biomedical engineering major.

Copyright © 2014,