Hard Numbers on Administrative Bloat

That bloated feeling. Image credit: Microsoft Image Creator

by James A. Bacon

A number of University of Virginia Board of Visitors members have expressed concern about UVa’s runaway costs. Administrative bloat has swollen the university’s cost structure, they say, and  higher costs have been cited in turn to justify tuition increases. So far, the fiscal hawks have been unable to force a discussion of the topic during regular board meetings. Indeed, simple requests for data on headcounts and salary costs have gone unanswered.

The refusal of UVa leadership to share the data is all the more remarkable in that the statistics are readily available. Indeed, much of it is maintained on the UVa website by the office of Institutional Research & Analytics (IR&A). The 17 members of the IR&A staff have the mission of supporting “the University community” — which, presumably, includes the Board of Visitors — in “assessment, planning, and decision-making.”

As it turns out, the IR&A data confirms the suspicions of the fiscal hawks. Between the 2011-12 academic year and the 2021-22 year, UVa’s academic division (excluding the healthcare division) saw the ranks of salaried staff grow dramatically — at twice the pace of faculty — even as enrollment barely budged.

Student enrollment (full-time-equivalent): +8.8%
Total faculty: +9.5%
Total salaried staff: +25.4%

(Student headcount comes from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.)

The IR&A numbers raise issues about faculty productivity as well, and we’ll get to that in a follow-up blog post. But the big story over the past decade has been the surging cost of administrative overhead.

The IR&A posts the numbers here under the umbrella of “university data.” In the following table I have summarized the count of “salaried university employees” in the “Academic Division” over the years 2011-2012 through 2021-22.

To view a more legible image of the table click here.

Several sub-trends are evident.

“Administrative general faculty” saw a steady decline over the decade — from 568 employees to 213 employees. These are generally lower-level employees who provide administrative assistance to the faculty, usually at the departmental level. Judging by the numbers, the university has squeezed this category relentlessly. It would make an interesting Board discussion to see if faculty members have experienced a corresponding uptick in administrative duties and whether the added responsibilities have impacted their productivity.

The “Classified staff” classification experienced a steady decline over the 10-year period, but it was largely offset by a corresponding increase in “University staff.” I repeatedly asked UVa for definitions of these classifications and explanations for the sub-trends but have received no response over three weeks. However, the UVa HR department defines “classified staff” as salaried, non-faculty employees hired before July 1, 2016, who elected not to participate in the University Staff HR plan. “University Staff” are those hired after July 1, 2016, who do participate. In other words, some of the number changes stem from the result of reclassifying employees. Still, the two categories combined show a significant increase.

One other category, professional research staff, is worth mentioning. This category consists principally of research associates, research scientists, senior scientists, and principal scientists who have limited-term appointments. Their number increased from 437 to 550 over the period, a 29% increase. This trend coincides with an increase in R&D grants at UVa and should not be equated with administrative featherbedding. The category represents a small sub-set of salaried employees, however, so it accounts for only 14% or so of the total increase in administrative employees.

The IR&A data tell us only part of the story. The university increased the number of salaried staff by 2,000 over 10 years. What do those people do? There is no way of knowing from a high-altitude look at the data.

Also, the IR&A numbers count salaried employees only. The published data do not track more than 12,000 wage-earning employees (2022 numbers). Is the number of these employees increasing or decreasing? Furthermore, the numbers tell us nothing about work outsourced to consultants and vendors. Is that practice waxing or waning?

We can conclude one thing for certain, however. There is no question that the data is readily available. The office of IR&A has it. The Ryan administration has it. The Board of Visitors should have it, too.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct an erroneous statement in the original version that student enrollment increased only 1.1% between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2022. The correct figure was 8.8%.

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Bill Spencer
Bill Spencer
6 months ago

Great job, Jim. The finances at The University have been puzzling me for quite a while. Hopefully at the BOV meeting in a couple of weeks your comments will receive the attention they warrant, and responsible BOV members will pursue this vigorously. Willyhoo

Angela Box
Angela Box
6 months ago

If you didn’t do this research, no one would know how irresponsible the administration is. Thank you!

MG50
MG50
6 months ago

Thank you for this information. Truly poorly management and administration considering the advancements of technology.

walter smith
walter smith
6 months ago

It’s not just the Administrative bloat.
Let’s not forget expansion of the educational mission.
Go to page 24 of the link to the current Darden magazine.
https://issuu.com/dardenreport/docs/darden_report_summer2023_alumni
It is a luxury hotel. I get it – all the corporate sponsors and the executive MBA programs, but…really?
And how would the hotel owners in Cville, not tax exempt entities supported by the Commonwealth, with huge endowments feel about this?
And this is before the new hotel down at the bottom of the hill from Carr’s Hill at 250-29 comes on line.

Get rid of about 50 worthless areas of study, get rid of DEI and all the other departments doing anything other than teaching and get back to education…in real courses with real world value.

HooDaMan
HooDaMan
6 months ago

Tuition + fees – instate and out of state – are amongst the highest in the nation. Any further increases will likely LOWER net tuition receipts due to UVA’s #1 rated (Princeton Review) financial aid program. Alums funded it.
So – cost structure is everything. Given employee compensation is (check this) 2/3 of total costs –
Understanding definitions of employee categories is key.
Understanding growth in employee numbers AND total compensation cost in each category is key.
Every employee has to justify their salary + benefits. Standard for any entity. And here’s why providing this transparency helps the University. Once alums are confident the organization is being run efficiently – they will co-invest in areas they care about.

HooDaMan
HooDaMan
6 months ago

Given WSJ article on college costs last Thursday and WVU’s large curricular cuts on Friday resulting in 7% faculty reduction – good time to focus on this important issue.

Jeff
Jeff
6 months ago

As a parent of a current student paying full load… This is ridiculous. Thank you for sharing.

James B Newman
James B Newman
6 months ago

Great article Jim. It is upsetting to see how things have gotten out of hand. One can only hope that a new Board of Visitors brings a new day.

Lorna Gladstone
Lorna Gladstone
6 months ago
Reply to  James B Newman

Only if they have a backbone.

Mary Lee Vance
Mary Lee Vance
6 months ago

As a faculty member of the Medical School since 1983, I would describe the term “bloat” as a misnomer for the Medical School (Dean’s office) and the Hospital. A better description is morbid obesity.
Every few weeks there is announcement of yet another administrator. Administrators do not support their overinflated salaries as physicians are expected to do and thus clinical revenue is used to support these persons, to the detriment of using funds for education and clinical programs for patient care.

The boot strap kid
The boot strap kid
6 months ago

It’s amazing how the woke left corrupts everything that it touches – government, universities, foundations, military, etc. I graduated from the law school in 1978. As a white, heterosexual, conservative male from a blue collar family, I could never have afforded an undergraduate and law school education if I were beginning my education today. Nor would I have been admitted into the law school today. Why would I give money to a woke, corrupt University that really dislikes people like me?

Lorna Gladstone
Lorna Gladstone
6 months ago

Exactly!

Lorna Gladstone
Lorna Gladstone
6 months ago

Am surprised that it is only twice as many as faculty. However I am probably premature in my assessment as staff seems to project a cancerous growth and all I have to do is wait another year or two.

Geoffrey Close
Geoffrey Close
6 months ago

Having recently retired from a corporation that prided itself on a lean operation, staph is an infection which if unchecked grows to threaten the entire organism and should be dealt with as soon as it is diagnosed. There is little difference except in the spelling of staph and staff!

Legacy Grad 69'
Legacy Grad 69'
6 months ago

It would be enlightening to know what the salary ranges are for the various personnel. One suspects extreme excess with wealth transfers from parents & students to various sinecures.