By David Loomis
INDIANA – The “new reality” at IUP is falling enrollment as far as the eye can see. Fewer students mean fewer faculty. Fewer faculty spells economic stagnation in the wider community that hosts the unionized employees of the county’s largest employer.
This is a result of Harrisburg’s failure to recognize higher education as an investment. Instead, under the previous governor, higher ed was treated as an expense to be slashed, and state support for higher ed slipped to the bottom of the nation’s barrel. Pennsylvania’s resulting enrollment losses are now neighboring states’ gains, thanks to the uncompetitively high tuition rates and fees that its public universities were compelled to charge to compensate for Harrisburg’s parsimony.
Until state lawmakers re-order priorities, Pennsylvania’s public universities have some hard choices to make. At IUP, President Michael Driscoll recently wondered whether “we will just keep cutting and cutting until the last person to leave turns out the lights.”
He indicated that he will — “primarily, but not solely by reducing the number of employees to better match the number of students we are serving.” Attrition will be a key to how IUP balances its budget in the next three years, Dr. Driscoll said.
How will that burden be borne among the university’s constituent employees – faculty members, staff members, managers? Recent data gathered by the statewide faculty union show some disparities.
CITING IUP BUDGET DOCUMENTS, which use a broad definition of managers as any non-instructional employee not represented by a union, the data show that the “non-represented” administrator category grew by 2.8 percent from fiscal years 2012-2019. Meanwhile, faculty headcount declined by 6.5 percent during the period.
A separate batch of data from the National Center for Education Statistics, using a narrower definition of administrators, reported that the ranks of IUP managers grew by 11 percent from 2012-2017 (the most recent federal data available). Elsewhere across the 14-campus PASSHE system, the number of managers fell by 5 percent during the same period.
The federal data also report that the number of IUP faculty members fell by 13 percent from 2012-2017. Systemwide, the decline was less than half as much – a 6 percent drop.
That left IUP with a higher ratio of managers to professors, according to the federal data. In 2012, IUP’s ratio was 9.9 faculty members for every manager. In 2017, the figure declined to 7.8 instructors per administrator. In 2012 and in 2017, the PASSHE-wide average was 8.6 faculty members per manager, unchanged over the period.
Thus, IUP’s faculty-to-manager ratio declined by 21 percent from 2012-2017. Bottom line: proportionately more administrators, fewer professors.
On Nov. 24, the data were emailed for comment to the Media Relations Department of the university’s Marketing and Communications Division. (President Driscoll calls the new office “MarCom.”) The university did not comment.
THE DATA DO NOT ERASE IUP’s marketing message that its student-to-teacher ratio is attractive. At 16:1, IUP’s ratio is on par with top national universities in U.S. News & World Report rankings.
But the data do raise the issue of bureaucratic bloat. A 2014 investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting in collaboration with the nonprofit, nonpartisan social-science research group the American Institutes for Research reported that the number of non-academic administrative employees at U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled in the preceding 25 years, far exceeding growth in the numbers of students and faculty, according to an analysis of federal data.
The administrative hiring cancels efforts to cut labor-intensive instructional costs by hiring temps and adjuncts, who work for lower pay and fewer benefits, the investigation reported. Moreover, burgeoning numbers of campus bureaucrats coincided with skyrocketing tuition costs, which tripled at public four-year universities since 1987 – well beyond the rate of increase in health-care costs.
Administrators say burdensome regulations, student expectations for more services, pressures to accelerate graduation rates and demands for fundraising have driven the professional-employee hiring binge. And whatever blame is assigned must be shared with Harrisburg.
But if sacrifices are in store for IUP’s new reality, administrators should be prepared to explain why they shouldn’t share them fairly and proportionately.
David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.
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