The big issue in higher education, or at least the one that has been pushed in the media, is the burden of student loans. And the explanation for this crisis that has been advanced is the rising cost of college. According to sources deemed reliable, while tuition has soared in private colleges and universities due to an amenities arms race and a better deal for faculty, in public higher education unwilling taxpayers are to blame.
The roots of rising college and university costs are not difficult to identify. For the nation’s 1,600-plus public institutions, the chief culprit has been major reductions in state support; public investment in higher education has been in retreat in the states since about 1980, according to the American Council on Education. State funding and subsidies were cut by more than $7 billion between 2008 and 2018. What many call the “privatization of public higher education” has shifted most of the states’ share of instructional costs to students and their families, with disruptive results for both students and institutions.
Here is another “study” saying the same thing.
I once believed it, but when whenever I looked at the available Census Bureau data on higher education finances, it didn’t fully support it. With the availability of state and local government employment and payroll data for the 2017 Census of Governments, I took another look.
This is a third post on the employment and payroll data from the Census of Governments. The first post, which describes where the data came from and how it was prepared, and includes spreadsheets with data on all government functions and areas I included in the analysis, was here.
And should be read first, so you know what you are seeing. The second post was on elementary and secondary education, which accounted for 55.6% of all local government employment in March 2017, on a full time equivalent basis. This post is on higher education, which accounted for 50.8% of state government employment, for that year and on that basis.
In employment data higher education is divided into two categories, instructional and non-instructional. Unlike in the case of elementary and secondary education, the manual does not define these categories, so I assume the same definitions hold for both functions.
If so instructional employees include classroom teachers, principals, supervisors of instruction, superintendents, teacher aides, substitute teachers, school librarians, library aides, and guidance and psychological personnel. While non-instructional employees include, among other things, Paid Student Employees.
In Census Bureau government finances data, on the other hand, higher education is divided into Auxiliary Enterprises and Other Higher Education (ie. actual education).
On the revenue side, those of Auxiliary Enterprises include gross receipts from sales and charges by dormitories, cafeterias, athletic contests, lunchrooms, student activities, bookstores, and similar commercial activities financed wholly or largely through these charges. Whereas Other Higher Education charges include tuition, laboratory fees, and other charges of higher education facilities other than auxiliary enterprises.
On the expenditure side, those of Auxiliary Enterprises include dormitories; cafeterias; bookstores; athletic facilities, contests, or events; student activities; lunch rooms; student health services; college unions; college stores, and the like. Whereas Other Higher Education expenditures include all related activities for instruction, research, public service (except agricultural extension services), academic support, libraries, student services (other than self-supporting enterprises), administration, and plant maintenance.
As part of the Sold Out Futures By State analysis last fall…
I updated a database of all state and local government revenues and expenditures in every category in every state through FY 2016. Before looking at the employment and payroll data, here is what that data shows us for public higher education.
If taxpayer support for public higher education is going down, it logically follows that the share of state government expenditures in the category covered by charges must be going up. That data shows that it has been, but the big increase was a long time ago, and the recent increase is not enough to explain the student loan crisis experienced by the Millennials – the very large generation born 1980 to 1998 that is the children of the Baby Boomers.
The best deal was had by the 1960s generation, today’s affluent seniors. In 1972, the first year I have available, charges for services covered 100 percent of auxiliary expenditures in state colleges and universities, but just 17.2% of expenditures on actual education. The latter increased to 23.8% in 1982, when those at the back end of the Baby Boom were in school (like me), and 36.3% in 1998, before the first Millennials entered college. There was an increase to a peak of 41.6%, before a decrease to 36.5% in 2016.
One might suppose that 2011 was the year the cutbacks in state support for public education were at their worst. But is also the year that enrollment peaked, meaning there were more tuition-paying students available to cover fixed costs. As is the case in elementary and secondary education, as the Millennials moved into a phase of life the demand for a public service increased, and as they moved out it declined. One person is thinking about the implications of this.
At a strategic level, recall that higher education boomed in student numbers for the past generation. From the 1980s through 2013, we sent more and more students to college, as we expected the manufacturing economy to transition into a knowledge one, and as the BA/BS became the new high school diploma. Our economic models were built on this assumption of steady growth. That’s how we powered expanding amenities, growing programs, and increasing the numbers of staff and faculty. Now that higher ed is, at best, at a steady state, if not shrinking, these business models no longer apply. What do we do now?
One side effect of this continued development is increased inter-institutional competition. The same number of colleges and universities are fighting for a shrinking number of students. Collaboration is going to be even harder to support.
Adding it up, on average charges for services covered 32.9% of the cost of actual education at state colleges and universities from 1988 to 2000, mostly pre-Millennial, and 37.4% from 2001 to 2016. That’s an increase of 13.6%. For auxiliary enterprises, on the other hand, charges covered 101.9% of the cost from 1988 to 2000, but just 91.7% 2001 to 2016 – and just 80.6% for 2016 alone. It would seem that state colleges and universities were left with a lot of stranded costs as the Millennials aged out and enrollment fell.
Moreover, looking at the data for state and local government, and thus including more affordable community colleges in states where these are run by local governments (including New York), one finds that the share of actual education funded by charges increased from 32.0% on average from 1988 to 2000 to 35.0% from 2001 to 2016. That’s a 9.3% increase, not enough to explain the student loan crisis by itself. Including local government, moreover, charges covered just 79.7% of the cost of higher education auxiliary enterprises. Up until 2009, this figure had always been around 100.0%.
Community colleges continue to see enrollment declines. That’s because they are traditionally counter-cyclical to employment. Some will dismiss the CC shrinkage as unimportant, despite it being the largest sector in American higher ed, the one doing the most with the least, and the one receiving less media attention than any others.
We might see people argue that this data indicates that tuition and debt are actually just fine. Back to Derek Newton: “we can further dispel the popular notion that factors such as student debt and climbing tuition prices are impacting consumer/enrollment choices. Clearly, they are not. What’s happening instead is that enrollment at the least expensive option in higher education, and by a ton, the public community colleges, is down. At the same time, enrollment is flat or slightly up at the most expensive quality options – the prestigious private and nonprofit liberal arts schools.”
We can also expect conservatives to cite this enrollment data as proof that higher ed is flawed.
When actually, according to the author, what is happening is demographic, a “peak higher education” scenario he had earlier predicted.
Administrations may cite this data as they contemplate cuts, queen sacrifices, mergers, and closures. “We are suffering from the general, national trend of enrollment decline…” How many campuses will consider a pivot away from undergraduate and towards graduate programs?
Which are still adding students, because that’s the age the last Millennials are.
Some will speak of this in terms of bubbles or higher ed being overbuilt. US News and World Report concludes that higher ed now has “too many slots compared to the number of applicants.”
Examining state government higher education expenditures as a percentage of the total personal income of everyone in the country, one finds that it did in fact rise with enrollment to a peak near 2009, when income was low because of the recession. And it has fallen since with regard to actual education, though not with regard to auxiliary expenditures.
Expenditures on actual state higher education averaged $11.24 for $1,000 of everyone’s income from 1988 to 2000, and increased 18.5% to $13.32 per $1,000 on average from 2001 to 2016. The peak was $14.38 per $1,000 of everyone’s income in 2009. For auxiliary expenditures, however, the peak is 2016, at $2.00 per $1,000 of everyone’s income. So perhaps some public colleges had joined the amenities arms race after all, at least for sports facilities.
The Harvard Business Review article on the cause of the student loan crisis cited at the top drew this response in the comments.
This is a blatantly wrong diagnosis of the cause. First, State support of colleges has increased, roughly with inflation, over the years, not decreased. Pointing to the shrinking percentage that state support contributes to the colleges exploding budgets does NOT make it a cut. This is one of the biggest untruths being told currently.
Although just keeping up with inflation when enrollment is stable of falling is one thing, while just keeping up with inflation when enrollments are soaring is another. As in the case of elementary and secondary school funding for NYC, it seems that public higher education funding it is based on the share of the budget allocated to various interest groups by politics, not actual need. It doesn’t necessarily go up and then down with need.
Second, exploding college prices are a symptom, not a cause. The only reason that the colleges can raise their prices is that we have a PREDATORY lending system that, without standard bankruptcy protections, statutes of limitations, and most other standard consumer protections to contend with, is more than willing to heap ever larger amounts of debt onto the students. Many years of White House Budget data show clearly that the government is actually making a slight PROFIT on defaulted loans, not a loss! This is a DEFINING hallmark of a predatory lending system, and is indefensible.
The Founders- many of whom were being abused badly under debt to British banks and Merchants- saw this coming from 250 years in the past. This is why they called for UNIFORM bankruptcy laws ahead of the power to raise an army and declare war on the Constitution.
The author has no answers, but the answer is obvious: Return the constitutional bankruptcy rights that should NEVER have been taken away from student loans. This will force price rationality, responsible lending, lower debt loads, and will end the viciously predatory catastrophe that is ruining the lives of tens of millions of our citizens. Every honest economist at Harvard University should be compelled to agree that this is certainly the first step to take, if the entire lending system is to be spared the fate of evaporating into a mist of illegitimacy.
What does appear to have happened is that in states where one state university is highly prestigious, on par with the finest private universities, the state government has jacked up its tuition to keep other public higher education affordable. So it may be that William and Mary in Virginia, the University of California at Berkley, the University of Michigan, and Penn State have, in some senses, been “privatized.” And there are some states where tuition is indeed covering a much higher share of public higher education expenditures, following the preferences of a Baby Boom generation not willing to pay for what they themselves had received. But those states are offset by other states where college has been kept affordable. One of those is, believe it or not, New York.
For state senior colleges and universities, SUNY and CUNY, charges covered just 24.4% of the cost of actual education an average from 2001 to 2016. That is up from 21.0% from 1988 to 2000, but it is still low. And not much different from the early 1980s when, not coincidently, public employee pensions were also sucking up a large and rising share of the budget in the wake of retroactive pension increases, just as they are now.
Here in New York as well, moreover, charges for services are covering a shrinking share of auxiliary higher education expenditures. New York State is apparently impacted by shrinking enrollment and stranded costs too.
Enrollment across state-operated four-year institutions experienced about a 1 percent uptick to about 224,000 students, but community colleges combined for a 4.6 percent decrease from fall 2017 and fall 2018. The more than 9,500 student drop saw community college enrollment dip below 200,000 — a stark contrast from 2010 when enrollment combined for nearly 250,000 and accounted for over half of SUNY’s total enrollment. Since 2015, community colleges have seen a 10 percent drop in enrollment, losing more than 23,000 students.
Fewer students has resulted in less revenue for community colleges, and it is believed to be the result of a declining upstate population and an improving jobs market that has led more students to the workforce rather than a community college. The result, though, is smaller class selection and larger class sizes to avoid layoffs in staff. In some cases, maintenance spending has also been reduced, resulting in delayed repairs across aging facilities.
The competition among institutions for a dwindling number of students predicted by Bryan Alexander has played out politically in New York.
In 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled the Excelsior Scholarship — a means of providing free tuition to students of income-eligible students at all SUNY and CUNY schools. The program is viewed as a way to increasing access to education for middle-class New Yorkers whose household income is under $110,000. The threshold grows to $125,000 this fall.
The scholarship raised concerns among private colleges who feared more students would flock to SUNY at their expense. The fear…was that the Excelsior program would disrupt the balance between the state’s public and private schools, which combine to serve over 1.2 million students.
But that hasn’t happened, data shows. Private college enrollment has remained steady year-over-year between 2016 and 2017, according to CICU data of 141 schools throughout the state. Enrollment at SUNY four-year schools, however, saw a boost in enrollment during the same period. The 2 percent increase comes after years of stagnant growth at state-operated schools.
Community colleges were abandoned instead.
Community colleges in the SUNY system have three sources of revenue: the state, local counties and tuition and fees from students. So fewer students has impacted the classroom… To avoid layoffs, some schools have been forced to halt infrastructure spending.
New York state government spending on higher education, as a percent of the income of all state residents, followed the rise and fall seen in the U.S. as a whole. It is lower for all years (I used the same scale for the U.S. and NY charts to show this) in part because more NY students attend private universities.
New York State has also apparently tried to hold the line on higher education costs to a greater extent than the national than average. This is in stark contrast with just about every other public service in New York, where we are always told we ought to be paying more and/or getting less by our public employee union- and contractor-controlled politicians.
Meanwhile, as of 2016 at least one type of higher education expenditure had actually decreased as a percent of the income of all state residents over the decades, after peaking in the late 1970s when the last of Baby Boomers were in college. Higher education assistance, which can be used to pay for private colleges and universities. Per the Census Bureau’s manual this includes:
State government direct cash payments to individuals for tuition, scholarships, and other financial aid to meet educational expenses (other than loans), whether based on academic merit, financial need, athletic ability, or educational disadvantage. This function also includes direct cash subsidies to private schools and colleges.
It peaked $3.02 per $1,000 of all state residents’ personal income in 1978. And then averaged $1.61 per $1,000 of personal income from 1988 to 2000, and $1.64 per $1,000 of personal income from 2001 to 2016. I suppose the Excelsior program could bring it back up, but with private colleges and universities in eligible.
If you would like to analyze this data further, it is available for the U.S. and every state at the state government level, the local government level, and for those who combined, here.
I continue to believe that among the biggest causes of the student loan crisis are factors no one seems to want to talk about.
Lower cash contributions from savings by parents.
The Millennials were far more likely to have grown up in broken homes and reformed families than their Baby Boomer parents had been, as a result of the personal and sexual choices of the Baby Boom generation. With new spouses/significant others and their needs to satisfy, some may have been less willing to pay for the tuition of the offspring of past relationships.
And with their high consumption lifestyles and high debts, they may have been less able to pay for their children’s tuition with savings, even when willing. My parents, like most other members of the Silent Generation, were spenders, not savers, but at the time no one cashed out their home equity for short-term consumption. The banks would not allow it. So my parents were able to pay for much of my higher education with a second mortgage on their still-existing home equity. In contrast, one aspect of the student loan crisis is the burden on parents who, lacking savings and having cashed out their home equity, co-signed for their children’s student loans.
Lower cash contributions from students.
In the late 1950s, my father was able to pay for 100 percent of his education at Manhattan College shoveling coal into the boiler at the Sugar House up on the Yonkers waterfront. In the early 1980s, I was able to pay for one-third of my education at Colgate University with savings from work as a busboy, dishwasher, short order book, movie usher, gas station attendant, hotel bellman, market research phone interview, and (believe it or not) paid intern newspaper reporter. My wife worked at the local library, delivering Newsday, and doing other jobs, and paid for a good chunk of her education there too.
Today, however, far fewer teens work, because the decline in wages for working people means that jobs once by teens are now held by more responsible, easier to manage adults. And to the extent that a kid does get a minimum wage job, outside of states that have recently increased it above the federal minimum, it is worth 25 percent less, after adjustment for overall inflation (let alone college tuition inflation), than it was back in the late 1970s when I was earning it.
My own children were able to pay for virtually none of their own education with their own money. The best job either of them got was – courtesy of New York State, over a summer at Camp DeBruce. After attending as a child, she had this grand plan to show up for a couple of years as a volunteer in the hopes of becoming a staff member. I was skeptical. Couldn’t you just get a job at a store or restaurant in Brooklyn? But she was right. Only because of her grand plan was she able to spend one summer busting her ass prepping food, cooking, cleaning, and washing dishes – and getting well paid for it – the way I had been decades before.
By not working as teens, young people lose more than money. They also lose out on lessons as valuable as any in school. The lesson, for example, that adult relationships are voluntary, and if you don’t bring enough energy and reliability to a job, you can be fired. And the lesson of having money in your pocket that you earned, because you were needed and successfully met that need.
Both of my daughters also had summer jobs at the college. It occurred to me, as I wrote that big tuition check, that I was in part having to pay so my children could have jobs.
Lower post graduation pay.
During the 1990s census, for the first time the number of Americans with at least a college diploma exceeded the number of Americans working in managerial and professional specialty occupations. The spreadsheet I circulated showing this was titled “Oh Shit.” Sure enough, starting with the early 1990s recession a college diploma has ceased to be a ticket to a middle class career. (The average pay of those with high school diplomas had started falling a decade earlier). After 2000, a graduate school diploma hasn’t been either. No wonder inequality has become a political issue now that an articulate and entitled population has been affected – even though those without college degrees continue to be hit harder.
Overall, Millennials are paid 25 percent less than Baby Boomers had been at the same age.
My wife and I had student loans too, and graduate school (Rutgers and CUNY) to deal with, but we handled it easily. In part because I washed dishes in my teens, not after graduating from college.
What can the Census of Governments employment and payroll data for March 1997, 2007 and 2017 tell us about the cost of public higher education?
The tables and charts used in the rest of this post may be found in this spreadsheet.
And for those who prefer pictures of numbers to numbers, here are tables of 2017 data on employment.
The data shows that in March 2017, New York State had 559 full time equivalent state and local government higher education employees per 100,000 state residents, well below the U.S. average of 935. New Jersey was also below average at 674.
These states have local government employment in the category, presumably community colleges managed at the local level. In New England, community college employment is assigned to state government as well. The U.S. average is 831 for state government and 104 for local government. For New York, it is 430 and 129, and for New Jersey 554 and 120.
Public higher education employment is below average in New York in large part because private higher education employment is higher. The U.S. average is 382 private college and university employees (in this data each part-time worker counts as one employee not part of one full time equivalent) per 100,000 residents, compared with 949 for New York State. New Jersey is low at 221 because a large share of its students attend college in other states, including New York and Massachusetts, which is also far above the U.S average at 1,340. Connecticut is high as well at 840, as in Pennsylvania at 893. Meanwhile, states such as California, at 310, and Minnesota, at 324, are below average.
One thing that has always bothered me about public higher education is the high share of employment accounted for by non-instructional workers. At the state government level this is true everywhere, even in California where most students attend public colleges and universities rather than private, and yet FTE employment per 100,000 residents is below the U.S. average overall.
New York State is better than average by this measure, probably because of CUNY, whose students are mostly commuters and don’t use college dorms and cafeterias. The U.S. had 264 full time equivalent instructional employees per 100,000 U.S. residents in March 2017, compared with 169 for New York State. Non-instructional employment came in at 567 for the U.S., and 261 for New York State, higher than instructional in each case.
Instructional employees were just 31.8% of total U.S. state government higher education employees on a full time equivalent basis, and just 24.4% in California and 24.2% in North Carolina. On the other hand, instructional workers accounted for 39.3% of the total for New York State and 39.2% for Connecticut. New Jersey was about average at 31.4%.
I used the state scale as for state government higher education for the chart on local government higher education, and this shows that even where you have locally run community colleges, their employment levels are lower. The U.S. average is 41 FTE instructional employees and 63 non-instructional employees per 100,000 residents. Non-instructional exceeds instructional even though it is likely that very few community college students live on campus.
Community college employment levels are slightly above the U.S. average in New York City, at 44 instructional and 69 non-instructional per 100,000 city residents, and the Downstate Suburbs, at 54 each for instructional and non-instructional. They are much, much higher Upstate, at 66 instructional and 107 non-instructional in the urban counties and 62 and 106 respectively in the rest of the state. This is an area where the number of young people is falling sharply.
But New York’s local government community college employment is far below the level seen in California and Texas. Reflecting the limited respect for and investment in vocational and technical training here, compared with elsewhere.
If there has indeed been a debt-fueled higher education bubble that is heading for a reckoning, then Upstate New York’s remaining employment base is vulnerable. Private college and university employment totaled (as best as I could estimate) 1,077 per 100,000 residents in the Upstate Urban Counties and 1,346 in the Rest of New York State, compared with the U.S. average of 382. New York City is also high at 1,013 per 100,000 city residents, but it has more private sector employment opportunities in other industries than Upstate does today.
Other places face the same issues. Private college and university employment totaled 1,001 per 100,000 residents of the portion of Connecticut outside Fairfield County, 2,368 in Middlesex County, Massachusetts (including Cambridge), 3,772 in Suffolk County Mass (Boston), 2,887 in Philadelphia, 2,063 in Alleghany County PA (Pittsburgh), and 4,201 in the District of Columbia, all the locations of large and prestigious private universities and colleges. Johns Hopkins University and its affiliates is the largest private sector employer in the state of Maryland.
The Census Bureau’s government finances data says that for state and local government combined, the share of expenditures covered by tuition was 9.9% higher from 2001 to 2016, on average, than it was in 1988 to 2000 – 16.4% higher for education, and 16.7% lower for auxiliary. And higher education expenditures per $1,000 of everyone’s income were 16.6% higher on average from 2001 to 2016 than they were from 1988 to 2000, including 14.7% higher for education and 39.6% higher for auxiliary. So how have public higher education employment and payroll changed over 20 years, and what does this say about the contribution of costs to the student loan and college availability crisis? The data is contradictory to say the least.
Full time equivalent state government higher education instructional employment soared per 1,000 residents in every state I analyzed, and in the nation as a whole. That isn’t a surprise for the period from 1997 to 2007, as the Millennials surged out of elementary and secondary schools and into college. It is a surprise for the 2007 to 2007 period, during which enrollment peaked and began to drop, and so did spending as a percent of personal income.
The 2007 to 2017 increase, relative to population, was 58.9% nationwide, 61.7% for New York State, 47.5% for New Jersey, and 81.4% for Connecticut. It was 93.8% for New Hampshire, allegedly a cheapskate state with no state income tax, 49.2% for Texas, another low tax state, and 70.1% for California, where advocates claim public higher education has been gutted. Only Maryland shows the pattern I would have expected – a big increase from 1997 to 2007, followed by a mere 12.1% increase from 2007 to 2017.
When it comes to the mean payroll per FTE instructional worker, on the other hand, one finds a shocking decline from 2007 to 2017 in most states, after adjustment for inflation. For the U.S. as a whole, in $2017, the mean payroll per full time equivalent state government higher education instructional worker was $6,935 in March 2007 but just $5,144 in March 2017, a decrease of 25.8%. If these workers are paid year-round, think of that as a decrease from an average of $83,220 to $61,728 in annual salary.
For New York State there was a 28.0% decrease, from $6,766 to just $4,870. New Jersey’s higher educational employees averaged $6,968 each in March 2017, about what New York’s got in March 2007, but that was down 36.3% over ten years. There was a 34.7% decrease in Connecticut, and a 40.9% decrease in Massachusetts. Texas, and Republican states in general, have been willing to pay up for higher education far more than for elementary and secondary education. Because higher education is seen in those states as an investment in the economy. But even in Texas, where mean payroll per state government instructional employee was and is relatively high, it fell by 17.1%.
Americans are increasing critical of higher education, according to new Pew Research. That actually means Republicans. This has important implications for the future of post-secondary education in the United States.
The unnamed Pew study author observes that “[t]he increase in negative views has come almost entirely from Republicans and independents who lean Republican.” Those views now constitute a majority within the GOP: “From 2015 to 2019, the share saying colleges have a negative effect on the country went from 37% to 59% among this group.” In contrast, “[o]ver that same period, the views of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic have remained largely stable and overwhelmingly positive.” That’s despite groups like this and the Obama administration’s continuous pressure on higher ed to reform.
It means we could expect rising Republican pressure on higher education in many forms. Historically, we know that includes: efforts to cut state funding to public universities; introducing state laws to do various things to curriculum and academic labor; scoring political points by criticizing select stories from higher ed; greater support for religious campuses. For the last point we can see evidence in North Carolina, where Republican legislators are considering directing cybersecurity funds away from public universities and towards a small, private, and very religious campus.
On the flipside, we might expect Republicans to seek more funding for vocational and technical education, likely by redirecting it from universities. The dislike of faculty can lead to more criticism of and attacks on professors who do public intellectual work. It also hamstrings any chance of public universities to try rebuilding tenure. This may have very bad human costs…
I’m not sure how Democrats will respond. On the one hand, they are likely to react defensively, given high levels of partisanship, not to mention close links between education levels and voting Democratic. On the other hand, many Dems are still critical of higher ed. Note the majority who think colleges and universities aren’t doing enough to equip students for work, not to mention the 92% who think tuition is too high. If Democrats do leap to the defense of academia, Republicans can ramp up their opposition, and academia rises to the top of vigorously fought culture wars.
The same pattern repeats of non-instructional. State government higher education employment has soared as a percent of the overall population.
But mean payroll per full time equivalent non-instructional worker has plunged.
I have no idea what all this means. Did state colleges and universities respond to the recession by putting more people on the payroll but paying them less, to spread the money around? Did the big surge in employment mean the share of total workers who are relatively new and thus low-paid increased? Is the talked about pattern of a few cosseted tenured faculty doing relatively little work, while most students are taught by low wage adjuncts working multiple part time gigs, mirroring the huge in equality seen in other “liberal” industries such as entertainment and in the “gig economy” as a whole, really a thing?
Some 73 percent of all faculty positions are off the tenure track, according to a new analysis of federal data by the American Association of University Professors.
“For the most part, these are insecure, unsupported positions with little job security and few protections for academic freedom,” reads AAUP’s “Data Snapshot: Contingent Faculty in U.S. Higher Ed.” The report is based on the most recent data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, from 2016.
AAUP’s report discusses long-standing concerns about the decline of tenure and what that means for academic freedom, as well as the “casualization” of academic labor and the unbundling of the traditional faculty role. But it also provides an up-to-date picture of who is teaching, under what conditions, where.
Breaking down non-tenure-track positions by institution type, it’s clear that tenure and tenure-track positions are more represented at research-intensive and other four-year institutions, where they are about one-third of the faculty. Tenure-line jobs are about 20 percent of all faculty positions at two-year institutions.
On the non-instructional side, have public higher education institutions increased tuition to provide more on-campus jobs for students so they can earn the money they need to pay tuition? Or is this part of the amenities arms race, powered in part by cheap labor due to falling wages and job security in the economy as a whole? I don’t know, and those who do know aren’t saying.
As a measure, higher education employment per 100,000 residents is not as telling as students per higher education employee. In contrast with public elementary and secondary schools, however, detailed data on higher education is scarce. The data cited by Bryan Alexander and others is not available for years before 2010. But I did come up with public education enrollment estimates for the U.S. and New York State.
Combining state and local government, instructional and non-instructional, the number of students per full time equivalent public higher education employee in the U.S. edged up from 6.8 in March 1997 to 7.0 in March 2007 – before plunging to just 4.8 in March 2017. This implies that public universities and colleges have too many workers for the number of students nationwide.
Over the years, I’ve observed (based on evidence from people I know) that when money gets tight or enrollment gets high, SUNY and especially CUNY respond by making fewer courses available. Students can’t meet their graduation and major requirements on time as a result, increasing their costs, with more years of dorm and cafeteria fees if they are studying away from home, and a delayed start to their careers.
So from 1997 to 2007 New York State’s public higher education students per full time equivalent employee increased from 7.5, above the U.S. average, to 8.9, far above the U.S. average. That ratio fell to 7.5 in 2017 in New York, back where it was in 2017 while the U.S. average is far below. As I noted, New York politicians try to hold the line on costs for public higher education – and nothing else – relative to the overall economy and the income of taxpayers.
Despite the propaganda that it is in private colleges and universities where the spending side of the revenue/expenditure equation is out of control, one doesn’t see as much of an increase in private higher education employment per 100,000 total people as in the public sector. From 2007 to 2017 overall employment increased 8.5% in U.S. private college education, compared with a 52.1% for state government instructional employment and 58.9% for state government non-instructional employment.
Private sector college and university employment fell by 4.3% in the Downstate Suburbs over that decade, while rising 18.3% in New York City, 21.6% in the Upstate Urban Counties, and 23.7% in the Rest of New York State. It increased just 5.3% in New Jersey and 1.7% in Suffolk County Mass (Boston), while falling 9.1% in Middlesex County Mass Cambridge and 7.9% in the District of Columbia.
With regard to March 2017 instructional pay per worker compared with the U.S. average, one finds that New York State’s public colleges and universities are a bargain. While the state’s private sector workers earn 12.0% more than the U.S. average, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, its state higher education instructional workers earned less than the U.S. average. Most SUNY campuses are in Upstate NY, where private sector payroll per worker is well below average, but that isn’t true of CUNY.
Connecticut, Massachusetts, California and Illinois also put the squeeze on the professors. Texas private sector workers, on the other hand, earned 1.2% below the U.S. average, but its state government instructional workers were paid 16.8% above that average. The profs got a pretty good deal in California, despite their complaints, and New Jersey as well. Perhaps because there are relatively fewer of them, teaching more courses each.
State government higher education non-instructional March 2017 payroll per employee shows what one would expect from New York. While the average private sector worker was paid 12.0% more than the U.S. average, the average for these government workers was 20.1% above average. Then again, the U.S. average is really low, at $2,994 in March, the equivalent of $35,928 per year.
The big decrease in payroll per instructional employee seen in state government higher education, in colleges and universities, is not seen in local government higher education, in community colleges. In New York State mean payroll per employee has continued to increase, even as the mean pay per worker for most private sector workers has stagnated at best. Perhaps because the number of community college instructional workers has not soared, leaving a higher share of them in the higher-paid later years of their careers.
FTE local government higher education instructional employment was at 48 per 100,000 people in the U.S. in 1997, 44 in 2007, and 41 in 2017. It fell from 50 to 38 before increasing to 44 in New York City. And fell from 75 to 68 to 54 in the Downstate Suburbs. In the Upstate Urban Counties, it increased from 75 in 1997 to 80 in 2007 before falling to 66 in 2017. But in the rest of New York State, there was a small increase from 2007 to 2017.
Moreover, mean March 2017 payroll per full time equivalent local government instructional employee is above the U.S. average in expensive Downstate New York, and about average in lower-cost lower-wage Upstate New York. Which makes sense to me.
Wrapping it all up, the total personal income of all U.S. residents increased 55.9% from 1997 to 2017, after adjustment for inflation. The total March payroll of public higher education instructional workers increased less – by 48.1% at the state government level and 37.0% at the local government (community college) level. But the total payroll of non-instructional workers increased by more than total income – by 76.7% at the state level and 58.2% at the local level.
One might surmise, based on the Sold Out Future analysis I did last fall, that the cost of retired public education employees, in employer pension contributions and health benefits, and spending on things like stadia and interest on debts, have also increased more than taxpayer income, squeezing spending on instructional payroll and actual higher education.
New York State shows the same pattern. Real total personal income increased 48.3% over 20 years, with total higher education instructional payroll increasing by less – 38.0% state and 16.8% local – and non-instructional increasing by more – at 65.7% and 53.3% respectively.
New Jersey deviates from the pattern, in that for state government both instructional (48.8%) and non-instructional (57.6%) payroll increased by more than total personal income (40.2%), while for local government it increased by less at 16.9% and 27.1% respectively.
Connecticut has no local government higher education employment, payroll and expenditures. That state’s total personal income increased 43.2% over 20 years in real dollars, and its state non-instructional expenditures increased 43.3%, but its state instructional expenditures increased 73.0%. Given the record of University of Connecticut basketball teams, however, perhaps the increase was deserved.
Do I have any suggestions for stressed and neglected community colleges, facing downsizing and enrollment declines? As a matter of fact I do, for what it’s worth, because my suggestions are likely to be politically untenable in New York.
Among the many burdens later-born generations face is credentialism, the additional years of irrelevant schooling now required to hold the same jobs people used to hold with fewer, and delayed starts to paid work. To quote Bryan Alexander again…the BA/BS became the new high school diploma.
The last year of high school, and the last year of college, are great parties for some. But parties they are required to attend, and often cannot afford. Many scholastically inclined and capable students, therefore, end up spending the last year-plus of high school taking AP classes, getting an early start on college and reducing its cost.
It doesn’t work that way in Europe or the U.K. There the compulsory teaching of things everyone is expected to know (our equivalent of high school) is completed sooner, and student are then shifted earlier to either pre-college or vocational and technical training based on their interests and abilities. At least in countries such as Germany, that vocational and technical training is actually worth something. And it all gets done sooner, and cheaper.
So perhaps after the sophomore year of high school, instead of just having high school courses that also count as college credit, how about having community college courses that also count for high school credit, provided for free in lieu of high school course? Just get started in higher education a year or two earlier.
SUNY and CUNY have to be a better deal than the UFT and NYSUT, in that at least there is less reason to fear additional future costs for past teaching in the form of retroactive pension increases.
While this may seem to be an option that would apply mostly to the most scholastically-inclined and capable students, I see it more as a potential opportunity for the others, who just want to get to work and earn a living. And get their personal enrichment from books borrowed at the public library and from public television for free.
With some exceptions such as Aviation High School in Queens, vocational and technical education has collapsed in New York. The rapacious public school establishment would charge us huge money to restore it, and not deliver, so we can’t afford it. Restore it at the community college level instead. The college schedule works better than the high school schedule for teens, how like to sleep in, anyway.