The cost of administrative employees at Ohio’s two- and four-year public colleges consumes an average of about 20 percent of their general fund budgets, according to data gathered by the Ohio Department of Higher Education.
Cuyahoga Community College’s expenditure of 29.1 percent of its budget for 865 administrative employees led all 22 community colleges and 13 universities except for Ohio State University. Ohio State spent 33.4 percent of its budget for 8,416 administrative employees.
Tri-C and other colleges dispute the data, calling it misleading and unreliable.
“Some of the flaws with the report include: Counting many support staff positions as administrators; failing to account for differences among institutions in how positions are classified and failing to account for differences between institutions with one campus and those with multiple campuses,” the college said in a statement.
Higher education department officials agree the report was a first attempt to examine administrative costs. They said there is room for improvement and they are working to revise the data. But they maintain the information is consistent for all schools.
“While the subject of what categories to include in the analysis is subject to debate, all institutions are evaluated equally in this first report,” spokesman Jeff Robinson said in a statement. “The same categories of employees are included and excluded from the analysis across all institutions.”
What prompted the report?
The Ohio Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency, established by Gov. John Kasich in 2015, required the department to develop a common measurement of administrative costs.
Department officials said there was little information nationally on how to do that, so they examined data provided by colleges in 2013, 2014 and 2015 to the state and to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), a system of surveys conducted annually by a U.S. Department of Education center.
The department compiled a chart and sent the information to colleges in the spring of 2016. The report was not formally released but was recently referenced in a Cleveland State University report.
Administrative salary expenditures were based on information reported by colleges to IPEDS in the following categories: management; business and finance; computer, engineering and science; community service, legal arts and media; and office and administrative support.
The average administrative expenditure was 22.5 percent for 13 universities and 21 percent for the 22 community colleges.
What has been the reaction?
Community college officials strongly dispute the data.
“I believe I cannot make any statement to you that any of these columns are legitimate,” said Jack Hershey, president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. “I consider it a draft at this point. I think everyone, in both universities and community colleges, acknowledges that this is wrong and misleading data.”
He said students and part-time employees were included in administrative jobs, and information is not consistent across the colleges.
“We don’t think it is valid data at this point,” he said. “We have committed to work with the state to get a score that is beneficial to people.”
Lorain County Community College, with 22.1 percent of funds for administrative costs, said the measure “lacks detail and definition that is extremely important when measuring an institution’s efficiency. The study labels salary expenditures and head count as ‘administrative’ when data for these categories really refers to ‘non-instructional’ employees. LCCC is, by design, administratively lean with only 22 total administrators.”
Universities had the opportunity to comment on the administrative data in efficiency plans they submitted to the education department in the fall of 2016.
Few said anything.
Ohio State wrote that its data could be misleading due to several factors, including its large size and scope.
It said research positions, which may be counted as administrative, are largely funded by federal or private grants and would “artificially add ‘administrative costs’ under this definition.” It also includes administrative employees who work for state organizations such as the State of Ohio Computer Center and OH-TECH.
CSU, Kent State and the University of Akron were asked by cleveland.com to provide comments about their administrative costs.
CSU, with 21.9 percent of funds for administrative costs, said it reviewed administrative operations when it formed its Path to 2020 program in spring 2015.
“One of the projects undertaken was the Administrative/Institutional Cost Management project which reviewed personnel levels and operating expense budgets for the University’s administrative units,” it said. The university set a five-year goal of redeploying $11.5 million from those budgets to support students.
Kent State, with 22 percent of funds for administrative costs, said it “continues to focus on proactive financial management and organizational stewardship within its strategic priorities. Over the past three fiscal years, Kent State has delivered $26.6 million in effectiveness and efficiency savings, with projected savings of approximately $16.4 million in fiscal year 2018. We have achieved these successes through debt refinancing, energy stewardship, strategic contract management and a transformation of the university’s investment management model.”
The University of Akron, with 17.1 percent of funds for administrative costs, said “the ‘Administrative Expenditure Ratio’ indicates the University is doing an excellent job controlling administrative costs while it simultaneously invests in areas that contribute toward student enrollment, retention and graduation.” The university said costs have further been reduced to balance the budget.
What does the higher education department plan to do?
“Using a rational and logical approach, our goal was to develop an administrative productivity analysis that could be shared and could generate a response, relying on employment, expenditure, and student outcome data reported to us by each of our colleges and universities,” Robinson said. “And although we put a great amount of thought and effort into this first report, we acknowledge that there may be room for improvement going forward, and we would look to make that improvement using the knowledge, insight, and feedback provided by our institutions. This is the first step. We will listen to the thoughts and concerns from our colleges and universities as we go forward, and will incorporate feedback into the next iteration that is helpful and constructive. ”
Another report is expected to be released next spring, officials said.