Why does college cost so much now? There are many factors at work but something we’ve suggested before is that a lot of the reason for the vast increase in the price of college has to do, not with professors or students, but administrative personnel, all of those vice presidents and directors of things and their helpers.

As Benjamin Ginsberg wrote here back in 2011:

Every year, hosts of administrators and staffers are added to college and university payrolls, even as schools claim to be battling budget crises that are forcing them to reduce the size of their full-time faculties. As a result, universities are now filled with armies of functionaries—vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, all of whom command staffers and assistants—who, more and more, direct the operations of every school.

And they really have grown, a lot. According to research by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting and the American Institutes for Research, published at the Huffington Post:

The number of non-academic administrative and professional employees at U.S. colleges and universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years, vastly outpacing the growth in the number of students or faculty.

In all, from 1987 until 2011-12—the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, or an average of 87 every working day.

“There’s just a mind-boggling amount of money per student that’s being spent on administration,” according to Andrew Gillen, of AIR, who was quoted in the piece. “It raises a question of priorities.”

Yeah, that’s a question we can pretty safely answer.

During roughly the same period of time colleges have greatly increased the number of courses taught by low-paid adjunct professors. From 1976 to 2011, for instance, the number of part-time faculty employed by American colleges increased by 286 percent. Meanwhile, the cost of college has increased 1,120 percent since 1978.

The priorities are not a question here; colleges are spending money on the wrong damn things. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer