A couple of weeks ago, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni sent out a report to 10,000 college trustees. "Cutting Costs: A Trustees Guide to Tough Economic Times" is worthwhile reading for anyone who cares about the future of higher education and certainly anyone who sends checks to universities. The researchers at ACTA suggest that trustees take a hard look at how much of the money coming into a school is being spent on instruction and how much is being diverted to other purposes.
They warn that administrative expenses are busting budgets. According to research done by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, there were 35 senior administrators for every student at four-year private colleges in 2007. But even the average of 95 at public colleges is way too much. The number of administrators has been increasing even in sectors of higher education where enrollment is decreasing.
Some of the money is going to supplement faculty's often light workloads. "This is a quality issue as well as an economic one," says the ACTA report. "Often serious teaching is assigned to... junior faculty with the least experience and depth in the field. At some institutions, senior, tenured faculty teach small seminars and have limited contact with students in introductory level classes who most need their comprehensive vision of the field." ACTA recommends upping teaching loads and distributing them more evenly.
But my favorite part of the report is on curriculum. Courses have been added to college catalogs faster than gourmet menu offerings at school cafeterias. But these boutique courses and programs cost money. Faculty may like teaching things related to their narrow area of research interests but they don't serve the students' interests. "A tighter and more coherent program of courses can improve student achievement and cut costs." Return colleges to their missions while saving money? Who could object?
The faculty, of course.