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Editorials

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Associated Press
Jean Paul Allain and Lisa Reece look on as doctoral students Emily Walker, left, and Ravi Kempaiah conduct nano-technology research at Purdue in May. Increasing demands on universities in enrollment, research and academic success drive increasing administrative costs as well.
Editorials

Closer look at college bloat

Purdue University is the focus of a Bloomberg News article examining administrative bloat in higher education. At first blush, it’s troubling: The number of administrators at U.S. universities increased by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty.

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

Of course, that’s the very role of administrative support: To quietly ensure students can concentrate on learning and faculty can concentrate on teaching and not worry about student recruitment and support, financial viability, campus facilities, government relations and myriad other requirements of running a major institution.

That’s not to say that administrative salaries and structure shouldn’t be examined, but critics should consider the increasingly complex higher education environment before concluding that most administrators are worthless. The same flawed assumptions lead critics to conclude that tenure protection is unwarranted and faculty should devote their time to teaching, not research.

Another recent news story, about the booming foreign enrollment in U.S. universities, serves as a good example of why administrative support is needed and why it’s growing.

The Associated Press reported that international enrollment at the dozen campuses with the highest number of international students is up by 40 percent in just five years. The Big Ten’s Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois are among them.

IU-Bloomington’s foreign enrollment exceeds 6,000 students this year, or about 15 percent of the student body. There were just 87 undergraduates from China at IU five years ago; 2,224 today.

Because foreign students generally pay full out-of-state tuition and don’t receive financial aid, their enrollment helps subsidize enrollment for Indiana residents. International students contribute $688.1 million in tuition, fees and living expenses in the state of Indiana alone, according to the Institute of International Education.

But they don’t arrive in Bloomington or anywhere else without administrative assistance. There are immigration and visa issues, immunizations, housing, transportation, English proficiency, academic support and more. Administrators coordinate those services so faculty are free to teach.

As universities are increasingly called upon to attract government and industry research dollars, to quantify academic success and to improve degree completion rates, more administrative oversight is needed.

“This is a $2.2 billion operation,” said Purdue’s interim president, Tim Sands. “You’ve got to have some people involved in administering it, managing it, leading it.”

As fallout from the student loan debt crisis continues to settle, there will be increased pressure to cut costs, and a close look at administrative overhead certainly is warranted. But the cost of reducing it should be weighed against the need to ensure the attractiveness and quality of Indiana’s institutions of higher education. The demands placed on the universities and on Ivy Tech Community College to drive economic development inevitably require the skills and services of more than faculty members.

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