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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Bureaucratic bloat chokes liberal arts colleges

Liberal-arts colleges sell themselves as places where professors interact with students, but administrators now outnumber the faculty.

Small liberal-arts colleges, which offer face-to-face teaching and learning, are being overwhelmed by bureaucratic bloat, writes John E. Seery, who teaches at Pomona, for the Martin Center for Academic Renewal. “An autonomous managerial class  . . . is destroying the distinctiveness, the very raison d’etrê, of small colleges.”

When Seery came to Pomona in 1990, the catalog named 56 administrators, 180 faculty members and 1,487 students, he writes. By 2016, Pomona had 271 administrators, 186 faculty members and 1,640 students.

The Dean of Students Office has gone from six persons in 1990 to 65 in 2016, not counting administrative assistants. The Office of Development, which formerly included Alumni Affairs, counted 16 persons; now those renamed offices tally 47 persons. A few years ago Pomona created a new position, Chief Communications Officer; there are 22 persons working for the CCO—yes, we now have 23 people working for Pomona’s PR! Summary overview: the number of students has increased 12 percent; the number of faculty has increased 3 percent; the number of administrators has increased 384 percent; and tuition has increased 253 percent.

Some blame federal regulations and “increased scrutiny by accrediting agencies,” Seery writes. “Some point to increased competition for students owing to the emergence of ranking services, globalization, helicopter parenting, and so on.”

The upshot is that “administrators, not educators, now run the show.”

It’s not just Pomona. College bureaucracy began its boom in the 1970s, writes Sean Braswell on OZY. “Since 1975, according to a 2014 report from the American Association of University Professors, full-time administrative positions grew by 369 percent, whereas full-time tenure-track faculty grew by 23 percent and part-time faculty by 286 percent.”

Administrative costs now account for more than a quarter of university spending, estimates Benjamin Ginsberg, a Johns Hopkins professor. He believes tuition could be cut by one-third if administrative costs were held to the average of 25 years ago.

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