|Letters: Administration Costs Rise to Serve more Students Better|
Apr 3, 2011/Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Free Press' March 27 article on payroll spending at Michigan universities was wide of the mark in a number of ways, and it missed an extraordinary opportunity to give an insight into the real value of Michigan's universities to our state's economy.
The two most important misses: First, its failure to point out that the overriding reason for recent tuition increases is due to deep and dramatic cuts in state support, to the point where Michigan's taxpayer support is among the lowest in the nation, not due to the growth of university payrolls.
Second, the article's refusal to acknowledge that universities are adding capable administrators to oversee a growing demand by business leaders and government officials that they help lead the state's economic recovery.
Yes, Michigan universities are adding "administrators." In most cases, the additional staff provides direct service to additional students, as enrollment in Michigan's public universities is at an all-time high. Grand Valley State University, one of those listed as having substantial growth in administration, has seen its enrollment increase by 48.4% this decade.
These new employees include academic advisers and counselors, to meet calls for increased graduation and graduate placement rates. Others are financial aid advisers -- needed because the state, by canceling its own scholarship programs, has off-loaded financial assistance onto the universities.
If universities are to be involved in job creation and economic development, they must add additional staff. Many universities have also added fund-raising staff, to replace facility maintenance and construction funds that used to come from the state but that now only rarely do.
Michigan's universities have seen huge increases in private and federal research funding in recent years. For instance, research funding from outside sources increased by 42% at Michigan Technological University. At the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, research and development expenditures funded from outside of the universities increased by $263 million since 2006.
Funds for the research come primarily from outside of the state, but these additional dollars require additional personnel to meet those research needs and to ensure the funders that the money is spent appropriately.
So, yes, administrators have been added. But, no, they are not overpaid. Buried in the article is the fact that compensation increased by 9% over the five-year period. That's total compensation, including health care costs, at less than 2.5% a year. To get the best and brightest, you need to keep up with market rates.
More troubling, the article ignored the dramatic cut in state support for Michigan's college students this decade -- missing a chance to tell readers the real reason tuition has had to increase more than university governing boards would have liked.
Gov. Snyder has proposed a 22% cut in state support for higher education. That comes on top of a 14% cut over the last eight years. If the governor's budget is accepted, state support for higher education will have been cut by more than $500 million in the last nine years -- before considering inflation.
State support per student in 2010 was $4,822. The national average in 2010 was $6,454. Under Gov. Snyder's proposal, state support will drop to $4,098 (assuming no increase in enrollment), third lowest in the nation.
Michael A. Boulus
Executive director, Presidents Council State Universities of Michigan