College Support Staff Jobs Outpacing Enrollment

By Staff

April 21, 2009

A new report indicates that colleges and universities doubled their full-time support staff over the last 20 years while enrollment increased by only 40 percent and full-time instructors rose by about 50 percent. The study concludes that the trend has resulted in a decline in productivity over that time.

The analysis was conducted by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a nonprofit research center, and was based on data from nearly 3,000 schools from 1987 to 2007, before the current recession caused many colleges to freeze hiring. The New York Times points out that while the report does not blame support staff salaries for escalating tuition, it does raise concern about higher education's focus on social and residential college life rather than academics.

"On a case-by-case basis, many of these hiring decisions might be good ones, but over all, it's not a sustainable trend," explained Pat Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, who was quoted in the Times. "At a time when we're trying to do something to hold down tuition increases, this gives us a pretty good clue where we ought to be looking. And it does raise questions about the conventional wisdom that you can't do anything to control tuition without affecting academic quality."

The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that the support staff mentioned in the report included a wide range of positions that support academic student and institutional operations, such as librarians, clergy, lawyers, student counselors and IT staff. But college officials argued that managerial and support personnel were added to deal with increased regulations, student expectations and new technology.

Kevin P. Cox, assistant vice president for university advancement and director of media relations at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, noted that much of the staff growth directly or indirectly serves students. He mentioned the school's service-learning center and intramural programs, which, he pointed out, "contributes to community."

Wake Forest has 1,323 full-time staff and 491 full-time instructors for approximately 7,000 students. "The importance of staff to supporting students and faculty is sometimes overlooked," Cox noted.

Inside Higher Ed explains that the report rated productivity in the higher education workforce by examining the number of employees, the number of full-time students and the number of degrees awarded. The overall finding indicated that the way the higher education workforce has grown has "increasingly resulted in unproductive use of labor resources."

"Colleges have altered the composition of their workforce by steadily increasing the number of managerial positions and support/service staff, while at the same time disproportionately increasing the number of part-time staff that provides instruction," the report said. "Meanwhile, employee productivity relative to enrollment and degrees awarded has been relatively flat in the midst of rising compensation."

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