Press "Enter" to skip to content

How big should a community college administration be?

I’ve written often about the size of the WCC administration and how much it has grown over the past decade. But simple growth doesn’t answer the question of how large a community college administration should be.

There are several ways to measure administration size, but it’s clear that it should bear some relationship to the size of the student body. After all, if the enrollment governs the size of the faculty, it should also govern the size of the administration.

Community college enrollment is messy because there are both full-time and part-time students. Institutions use a measure called “full time equivalent” (FTE) that accounts for this. The FTE measurement divides the total number of credit hours that all students (regardless of full-time/part-time status) enrolled in by 30 ( the number of credit hours a full-time student would take in a year). The result is the equivalent number of full-time students.

Just as student enrollment is messy, so is the size of the teaching staff. Because community colleges have a large number of both full-time and part-time instructors, you can use the data to determine the number of full-time-equivalent instructors. This answers the question of how many full-time instructors would it take to deliver the number of credit hours in any given year that students enrolled in. (And the same kind of measurement can be used for the staff – because there are many full-time and part time staff members.)

WCC administration is larger than statewide average

So, the data that each community college reports to the federal government contains information about its FTE students, FTE faculty and FTE staff.

Once you have these numbers, you can do some interesting comparisons. For example, you can determine how many FTE faculty an institution has per 100 FTE students. You can also do the same with the FTE staff. Having compared those two numbers, you can also compare an institution’s FTE staff to its FTE faculty.

I did that for all 28 Michigan community colleges.

Size matters. It’s not unusual for very small community colleges (<1,000 FTE students) to have a high ratio of non-instructional staff to instructional staff. Michigan has six such community colleges. Two of these very small colleges have between 2-2.5 FTE staff member for each FTE instructor on the payroll. The median staff-to-faculty ratio among all Michigan community colleges in 2020 was 1.3 FTE staff members for every 1 FTE instructor. In 2020, WCC had 1.4 FTE staff on the payroll for every 1 FTE instructor. You might think that 1.3 FTE and 1.4 FTE are not that far off. Mathematically, you’re right. However, of Michigan’s six largest community colleges, only two exceeded the state average ratio of FTE Staff to FTE faculty. They were Oakland Community College and Washtenaw Community College. Oakland Community College had a slightly higher FTE staff-to-FTE faculty ratio (1.44:1) than WCC.

Uncontrolled expansion of Washtenaw Community College administration

Here’s the sad part: in 2010, WCC had a 0.97:1 FTE staff to FTE faculty ratio. (WCC had more FTE instructors than it had FTE staff.) To get back to that size today, the WCC administration would need to shrink by 134 FTEs

2010 represents the last time the WCCEA had an agreement that tied the size of the WCC administration to its own size. Without that continued agreement, over the past decade, the size of the WCC administration has mushroomed. To ensure its own well-being, the administration is now cannibalizing academic programs and student services, and raising fees to pay for itself.

This is fiscal irresponsibility at the highest levels, and we are all poorer for that.

Photo Credit: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weaponos, via Flickr