When the Arizona Capitol Times hosted a public discussion on Sept. 9 about higher education, the first question from the audience was about the recent Goldwater Institute study on administrative bloat at Arizona universities. An interesting objection was raised by Dr. Bernie Ronan, an associate vice chancellor of the Maricopa County Community College District.
He argued, in essence, that if the Goldwater Institute had looked at staffing trends over time for community colleges, it would have likely found large increases in administration and other professionals not directly involved with classroom instruction. Dr. Ronan said that community colleges are taking in so many students poorly prepared for college-level work that it takes more administrators, counselors and other workers to get them to graduate. The Goldwater Institute, he charged, would label such employees as “administrative bloat” and that would be unfair.
Dr. Ronan makes a good point, but his justification ultimately falls short.
A consulting firm did a report for the Maricopa County Community College District board in 2009 about its $634 million operating budget. Of this, $275 million went to “Instruction,” and $67 million went to “Academic Support.” Instruction and academic support combined, i.e. teaching students, represents a little more than half of the operating budget.
Despite the spending on “Academic Support” and another $56 million on “Student Services,” only 16.9 percent of the community college district’s full-time students graduated after three years. If all the extra administrators are needed to help students graduate, why aren’t they graduating more of them?
Dr. Ronan does have a valid point that the community college district is taking in a huge number of students who are catastrophically ill prepared. Considering that taxpayers pick up the bulk of the tab when a student enrolls in community college, Arizona’s community colleges should have some admission standards to avoid wasting other people’s money on someone simply not ready for or serious about higher education.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research for the Goldwater Institute.
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