Massachusetts universities and colleges that say they're trying to hold down costs have increased their number of administrators three times faster than their number of students, according to federal data analyzed by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
The pace with which administrators have been added at Massachusetts higher education institutions also has outstripped the increase in the number of research and teaching faculty and other instructional employees, by a ratio of 2 to 1.
Over the last 25 years, the universities' enrollments have collectively grown by 26 percent, while their ranks of full-time administrators have risen 75 percent. This has happened not only at private universities, but also at some public ones.
It's a large part of why tuition is going up, said Andrew Gillen, research director at the nonpartisan Washington think tank Education Sector, which collected the federal data and supplied it to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.
During the same 25-year period, tuition at four-year universities nationwide has increased an inflation-adjusted 85 percent, federal figures show.
"Where is that money going? It's going to fund these bureaucratic empires," Gillen said.
While university officials concede that their number of administrators is on the rise, they said the increased hiring is in response to government regulation and greater requirements from students for support services.
"The demands of educating students haven't gotten less. They've gotten more," said Matt Hamill, senior vice president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
These include remedial services, mental health counseling, and other support functions -- "all kinds of things that students are demonstrating the need for if they're going to be successful," he said.
In all, Massachusetts' universities and colleges, which today number 116, have collectively added almost 51,000 employees in the last 25 years, or eight per working day.
Universities have gone from one full-time employee for every five students during this period to one for every four, and the number of administrators from one for every 47 students to one for every 35, the data show.
"In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate -- executives would lose their jobs," analysts at the Boston-based financial management firm Bain & Company wrote, in a July white paper, of administrative spending in higher education.
Even some colleges and universities whose enrollment has declined have expanded their administrative ranks.
For example, Mount Ida College in Newton, where enrollment dropped 12 percent in the last 25 years, has increased its number of administrators by 173 percent, from 15 to 41, according to federal figures.
Though employment and enrollment data is submitted to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics by colleges themselves, several institutions said the federal figures conflicted with their own records. They also said the way the government classifies employees has changed over the 25 years covered by the figures, distorting the true picture.
The U.S. Department of Education defines a university administrator as someone whose work is "directly related to management policies or general business operations of the institution," including managers of advertising, marketing, public relations, computer and information systems, purchasing, food services, residence, medical, and health services, and vice presidents, deans, and department heads, plus associate and assistant vice presidents, deans, and department heads.
Several institutions pointed out that they have added dormitories in the last 25 years, along with all of the attendant services required by students living on their campuses, bolstering the ranks of those employees designated as "administrators."
Others cited the growth of mental health, tutoring, marketing, diversity, disability, environmental health, recruiting, technology, and fundraising departments, plus new majors and graduate and athletics programs, satellite campuses and conference centers. They also cited the need to comply with increased federal regulations.
"There's no denying the fact that the university has more employees, and more managers and executives, than it did 25 years ago, but there is also no denying the fact that the range of student opportunities, support systems, and essential operations these individuals administer are more far-reaching, interconnected, and complex," said Bryan Baldwin, spokesman for Bridgewater State University.
Many of those services are being demanded by students and their parents as tuition continues to climb.
"If you're going to offer residential services, you're going to need to staff that," said Tom Torello, vice president for marketing and communications at Salem State University. "If you're going to offer career services, you're going to need to staff that. If you're going to offer student services, you're going to need to staff that."
Colleges and universities are different from one another, and no one school alone is representative. But many gave similar reasons for the administrative increases.
Williams College spokesman Jim Kolesar, for instance, said that school had added "quite a number" of employees to its development office, but that those employees more than make up for their salaries with the money they raise. It also bulked up its number of sustainability managers, whose cost, Kolesar said, is offset by the savings they make possible on heating and other utilities. And he said large numbers of people have had to be added to oversee electronic technology.
Suffolk University "has changed dramatically" in the last 25 years, its spokesman, Greg Gatlin, said. Suffolk had no dorms 25 years ago, its alumni affairs office "hardly existed," and there was no provost. Administrators also have been added to oversee such areas as environmental health and safety and disability services, Gatlin said.
The federal data show that Suffolk's administrative numbers grew by 921 percent, from 29 to 296, while its enrollment rose at one-tenth that rate. Gatlin said that's because the number of people classified as administrators was expanded during that time from just the central office to the managers of the university's three schools, its libraries, and other academic support and student services departments. Its calculations show that the number of administrators actually grew from 29 to 120, or 313 percent.
But some universities and colleges, said Gillen, from the Education Sector think tank, have managed to supply the same things, and comply with the same regulations, with nowhere near the proportional increase in the number of administrators as other schools. And even if the reclassification of workers has contributed to the apparent increase, he said, it has applied equally to all institutions, while the data show that some schools have increased their administrative numbers at a faster rate than others.
Babson College, for example, where enrollment grew 24 percent, increased its number of administrators from 45 to 125, according to the figures.
At Boston University, whose number of students is up 22 percent, the number of administrators rose from 448 to 1,130.
Springfield College's enrollment increased 30 percent while its number of administrators jumped from 53 to 153.
And at Williams, whose enrollment remained just about flat, the number of administrators rose from 54 to 136.
Some institutions saw less growth. Harvard's increase in its number of administrators was comparatively modest, and its total number of employees actually declined.
"Our priorities are the student experience and Harvard's teaching and research mission, and decisions about the allocation of resources have been driven by those priorities," said Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin. "Today, at a time when all of the revenue sources upon which a research university depends are under increasing pressure, maintaining a focus on those priorities is more important."
Brandeis, which has suffered budget shortfalls, also increased its number of administrators only slightly faster than its number of students.
"How come Harvard, which has a huge paperwork burden, has managed to keep its administrative budget fairly lean, whereas Suffolk, which I would guess does not have the same paperwork burden as Harvard, has grown so much?" asked Benjamin Ginsberg, chairman of the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies at Johns Hopkins University and author of "The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters."
The rise in administrators also coincides with a shift toward outsourcing such services as maintenance and dining. During the same period that the number of administrators has gone up, for example, the number of maintenance employees on the payrolls of Massachusetts universities and colleges has fallen 39 percent.
"Walking through a university administration building is like walking through a government building," Ginsberg said. "Never have you seen so many doing so little."
Several colleges with large increases in their number of administrators, including Mount Ida, did not respond to questions.
It's difficult to track the exact extent to which administrative creep contributes to tuition costs. A study by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank based in Phoenix, found that, between 1993 and 2007, inflation-adjusted spending per student for administration increased 61 percent, versus 39 percent for teaching.
"One thing that's pretty clear is that faculty salaries are really not the cause of the tuition increases. The instruction share of spending has continued to go down," said Donna Desrochers, deputy director of the nonpartisan Delta Cost Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, who studies the topic.
The average pay of administrators at private colleges and universities also rose last year slightly faster than the 2.1 percent inflation rate, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, or CUPA-HR. Presidents got raises three times higher than inflation.
In 2010, the last year for which their tax documents are on file, 15 administrators at BC made more than $250,000 in pay and benefits, 14 at MIT, 12 at Suffolk, 10 each at Babson and WPI, eight each at Bentley and BU, and six at Berklee.
"What's extraordinary is not just the growth in the number of administrators, but their salaries," said Ginsberg. "All of these people are very handsomely paid-because the money is there."
About 16 percent of top administrators also are eligible for private sector-style bonuses and other financial incentives, CUPA-HR reports. Seventy percent of presidents get a car or car allowance, and two-thirds are given free housing or are reimbursed for housing costs.
The Goldwater Institute study presumed that, as in private industry, efficiency in higher education should rise along with output-in this case, the increase in the number of students being served. Instead, it said, the opposite has happened at American universities. Even as enrollments increase, it found, the universities employ not fewer people and spend less money, but hire more people and use more money to educate each student.
A few universities said they're trying to contain the growth in staffing. MIT, for instance-where the federal figures show the number of administrators went up 137 percent, from 268 to 635, during a period when enrollment rose 16 percent-now has policies in place under which employees cannot be replaced without their positions being reevaluated, said Lydia Snover, director of institutional research.
"We worry about it a lot," Snover said. "The faculty are very, very sensitive to the growth in staff."
There is some evidence that that growth has slowed since the economic downturn. Figures supplied by Suffolk, for example, show that its overall staffing has remained flat since then-though its number of administrators continued to increase by another 4 percent. Bentley said it has 11 fewer administrators today than it did in 2009.
But Ginsberg said, "Consumers are paying more and getting less in terms of student contact with faculty, which is presumably why they're there. You don't send kids to college to work with the dean."
The New England Center for Investigative Reporting (www.necir-bu.org) is a nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom based at Boston University. Lori Sanders assisted with the data visualization for this story.