UT System’s administration ranks swell, as does tuition

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University of Texas Tower and Fountain
Photo: Kumar Appaiah (CC BY-SA 2.0)

While other state universities in Texas have cut staff or made minimum employee increases, the administrative ranks at the University of Texas System exploded between 2011 and 2017, and the swell of administration has come at a cost to students.

The state’s largest public academic system is proposing a second straight year of tuition increases.

In all, the university system’s administration grew 64 percent, hitting the mark of 923 administrative employees in 2017, according to records.

The university system, which includes 14 academic and medical campuses around the state, cites diminished state funding as the reason for the proposed hike. Each campus sets its tuition rates separately, although all operate under the state-backed UT system.

The system’s balance sheet for last year shows state appropriations increased 16 percent between 2012 and 2016 while enrollment increased five percent to 228,343. Enrollment this year is 234,287.

Between 2003 and 2013, the cost of tuition and fees at UT at Austin, the system’s largest school, increased 80 percent. Since that time, tuition increases have been moderate while state funding has increased.

“As a percentage of total operating expenses, legislative appropriations by the State have dropped considerably,” a statement at the UT-El Paso campus website reads. “Tuition and fee increases are needed to offset this reduction.”

Critics consider such statements a dodge, alleging higher education often spends money it doesn’t have.

“That’s the real kicker,” said Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity at Ohio University. “If you expand your operating expenses, the share that the state appropriation provides will fall by definition. So what they are saying is ‘we are spending more money each year but the state share of that is getting smaller therefore we have to increase tuition.’ They are using a percentage in an inappropriate way.”

The Tuition Policy Advisory Committee at UT’s largest school in Austin earlier this month announced it would support a two percent tuition increase. Most of the system’s universities, including El Paso and Dallas, have signaled they, too, will adopt a hike.

“Increases in tuition and fees are required to combat the rising costs of higher education operations…,” reads a report from the system’s Office of Academic Affairs, explaining the need for an increase.

Other state systems have also announced possible tuition hikes. Reasons given by schools for tuition increases vary. For example, when the administration at Texas A&M said it planned on a tuition hike for this year, it cited inflation as the reason.

Chancellor William McRaven in August outlined the UT system’s 2018 budget in August and said 186 full-time administrative positions have been cut after a steady increase in the past four years. The eliminated positions include some auditing slots that were filled with employees from some of the campuses, which the system “is sending back to the campuses,” he said.

The “takeaway,” McRaven said, is that many of the campus support positions among the system administrators were added “to reduce costs to the campuses, so those were levied on the system. We recognize that, we are working through ways right now to make sure we are balancing centralization with decentralization.”

UT spokeswoman Karen Adler said in an email that  the increase in administrative positions were “in great part, as a result of the then-Board of Regents decisions to move some campus positions to the UT System Administration payroll…over the years, other positions have been added to system administration to accommodate growth and to support mission-critical services as determined by the institutions…”

University of Texas System Administration Employees, 2010-2016

McRaven took office in January 2015, vowing to take a “hard look” at administrative costs. In his first year, the system increased its hiring 12.5 percent while administration salaries went up seven percent. Merit payments increased 26 percent in the system, as well.

McRaven will be paid $1.6 million this fiscal year. His contract runs through the end of next year and includes a $300,000 “completion bonus.” He is the second highest paid public university administrator in the U.S.

The growth of administrations in public universities has concerned critics for some time, as in-state tuition rates have increased 237 percent nationwide in 1997.

At the UT system’s national peer schools, the increases in administration have not been as vast as those at UT.

The University of Florida saw a four percent increase in enrollment between 2010 and 2015, while boosting its administrative ranks five percent.

At the University of California, enrollment jumped 11 percent between 2011 and 2016, while administration staffing went up 13 percent.

The fattening of university administrations does not always mean high-dollar, top-level office deans. Instead, mid-level manager often account for the increases.

“There has been a consistent pattern of rapid growth in mid-level support,” said Donna Desrochers, a consultant with rpk GROUP, a Washington D.C.-area firm that advises higher education operations on financial issues.

She attributes some of the increase to more government-required reporting and the need for schools to offer more services to draw in students.

“As the universities grow, they want to bring in more people to handle that growth,” Desrochers said.

Some, though, have managed to handle growth better than others.

Systems at Texas State University, North Texas University, and Texas Women’s University all saw enrollment growth accompanied by single-digit growth in staff in the same period.

The University of North Texas, for example, increased its faculty by 27 people — around 1 percent — and cut its overall employees by 15 percent between 2011 and 2016, the most recent year available. Enrollment rose nine percent during that time.

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