Labor Intensive or Labor Expensive? Changing Staffing and Compensation Patterns in Higher Education
Skyrocketing college tuitions and trillion-dollar student loan debt have put college and university spending in the spotlight. Policymakers, parents and students are asking why tuitions at public four-year colleges and universities have soared nearly 160 percent since 1990 and whether excessive spending is at fault.
This report from the Delta Cost Project at AIR looks at long-term employment changes on college and university campuses during the past two decades and examines fluctuations in faculty staffing patterns, growth in administrative positions, and the effects of the recent recession on long-standing employment trends. It goes beyond other studies to explore the effects of these staffing changes on total compensation, institutional spending patterns, and ultimately tuitions.
The overarching trends show that between 2000 and 2012, the public and private nonprofit higher education workforce grew by 28 percent, more than 50 percent faster than the previous decade. But the proportion of staff to students at public institutions grew slower in the 2000s than in the 1990s because the recent expansion in new positions largely mirrored rising enrollments as the Millennial Generation entered college. By 2012, public research universities and community colleges employed 16 fewer staff per 1,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students compared with 2000, while the number of staff per student at public master’s and bachelor’s colleges remained unchanged.
The data in this report come from the Delta Cost Project Database, 1987–2010. It includes data reported by institutions to the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and has been harmonized (when possible) to account for survey changes over time. Staffing and faculty salary data from the 2011 Fall Staff Survey (e.g., 2011–12 school year, or 2012 academic year) were appended onto the Delta Cost Project Database to show the most current staffing data available. All spending data are shown in 2010 dollars and were adjusted using the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), on a fiscal-year basis. The report focuses primarily on the 12-year period from 2000 to 2012, although it also extends back to 1990 on many measures to provide additional context.