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Too many administrators: a recurring theme

California Watch, a non-profit associated with the Center for Independent Reporting, noted that California’s community colleges had too many administrators. In fact, they had twice as many administrators as tenure track faculty.

In 2008.

Last week, California announced that enrollment at the state’s 116 community college campuses was down by an average of 11%. The memo pointed out that some campuses had suffered enrollment losses of 30%-50%. Further, the enrollment slide was so dramatic at certain campuses that the state was not ruling out consolidating or closing campuses altogether.

Regardless of what the state ultimately decides to do, some campuses are considering cuts of their own to balance their budgets. Recently, I wrote about planned layoffs at the City College of San Francisco. Most of the CCSF layoffs are targeted at faculty.

It’s sad that community college administrators have a problem correlating their budget problems and the size of their own ranks. Instead of looking realistically at the number of executives they have on the payroll, community college executives scramble to identify high-cost academic programs. Cutting academic programs, they rationalize, will correct the imbalance in the budget. For some reason, it’s always the expensive academic programs that cause budget problems. And the expense of teachers’ salaries. It’s (almost) never the 3:1 ratio of administrators to faculty on the institution’s payroll, or the fact that executives demand much but return little.

Unfortunately, academic programs are the money-makers in higher education. I have said this before and will say it again, students do not choose colleges based on their administrations. Cutting academic programs is cutting the school’s capacity to make money. Cutting executive positions, however, reduces costs.

The effect of too many executives

California is now beginning to see the impact of unchecked growth in community college administration. Community college administrative growth is simply not sustainable. Instruction generates revenue. Administration does not.

Undoubtedly, someone will argue that “good administration saves money!” Except that it does not. It costs money. Worse than that, it generates additional expenses. The larger the administration, the more expense it generates. Sharp rises in personnel costs are just the beginning. Pointless and unproductive initiatives, inflated salaries and benefits, subordinate hiring – the list goes on. There is no incentive to hold the size of the administration constant. And there is no demand on the part of the Board to contain personnel costs.

One of the biggest costs associated with administration is construction projects. Currently, higher education institutions have no need for additional academic space on campus. But that doesn’t stop executives from dreaming up construction projects. And it doesn’t prevent Boards from approving them. But it does negatively affect the finances of an institution – as does having too many administrators.

Boards are in place to question expenditures and contain costs. When they don’t, we end up with exactly what we have right now: a very well-funded community college that spends more money than it takes in. It is also a community college that cannot address community needs because it spent the money we’ve given it to hire more executives.

Here’s a piece of advice for a Board who inexplicably thinks its job is to advise the president: when it comes time to cut the budget, advise her to start at the top.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk, via Flickr