In the previous post, I outlined how the College of William & Mary is pondering how to deal with the nation’s enrollment crisis. Although W&M has had no difficulty keeping its enrollment numbers up in the face of a 30% increase in the cost of attendance over the past five years, the administration does worry that it may be compelled to accept a higher percentage of applicants, thus eroding its perception as an elite university. (I know, I know, what a problem to have. Waaaah!)
In seeking guidance from the Board of Visitors in November, the administration laid out the horrifying specter that, given increased market resistance to higher tuition and fees, W&M might actually be forced to cut costs to maintain its long-term financial viability. Rather than think about the unthinkable, however, the administration proceeded to explore strategies for increasing revenue by increasing enrollment.
Cost cutting is to higher-ed institutions, it appears, as kryptonite is to Superman, daylight to Dracula.
Dive into W&M’s November Board of Visitors presentations, and you’ll see an endless list of new initiatives, many of them advancing the progressive agenda on diversity and climate change, and zero analysis of the university’s cost structure.
For instance, look at W&M’s Capital Outlays Projects Progress Report and you’ll find a detailed listing of projects in the works such as…
- $122 million to construct a Fine and Performing Arts complex
- $73 million for an Integrated Science Center
- $37 million for an expansion of the Sadler Center student center
- $2.7 million for the Tribe Field Hockey Center
…and many smaller projects, to be paid for with some combination of state funds, W&M bond issues, private funds, or maintenance reserve funds.
If I were a board member, I’d like to put those requests in context. How much does W&M have invested in buildings & facilities assets? What is the implied depreciation, and how much money should the university be setting aside for maintenance? How much will a new $122 million Fine and Performing Arts complex add to depreciation, maintenance and operations? How much square footage does W&M’s physical plant have? How does that translate into square footage-per-student? How over-utilized or under-utilized is that space? Has anyone conducted an audit to measure space utilization — or, better yet, as many in the private sector do, does the university have any means to measure space utilization on an ongoing basis? How does W&M’s space utilization compare to that of other institutions?
Perhaps W&M provides that information in other board meetings. But there was no indication in this November presentation on Administration/Buildings & Grounds, which was focused exclusively upon environmental sustainability. Ten working groups, we discover from that document, are discussing such topics as curriculum/research, carbon neutrality, and Greenhouse Gas reporting. Nowhere was the cost of attaining W&M’s climate goals alluded to, not even as an afterthought.
In another instance, look at W&M’s “2019-2020 Operating Budget Summary,” and you’ll find expenditures broken down by such categories as instruction, research, public service, academic support, student services, institutional support, plant operations, student aid, auxiliary enterprises and sponsored programs. But the only numbers you see are for 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20 versus the two-year budget. The budget summary doesn’t allow board members to inspect 10-year trend lines, much less to compare the trend-lines to the Consumer Price Index, cost per student, or costs for peer institutions. Perhaps such numbers can be found in other presentations made at other Board of Visitors meetings, but they were not in evidence in November.
One searches in vain for any analysis of manpower costs. The most obvious questions pertain to administrative bloat. Has W&M done a better job than peer institutions of curtailing the expansion of administrative staff? Does W&M run a lean organization? Has it deployed information technology to boost productivity of routine administrative tasks? Has it rationalized the administrative structure to eliminate redundancy and overlap? Or have staff positions proliferated willy nilly to accommodate new priorities?
Likewise, no one appears to track academic productivity. One document does produce a graph that shows the student-faculty ratio over an eight-year period. In the fall of 2013, the ratio was 12.43 students per faculty member. In the last year covered, the ratio had fallen to 11.7 students per faculty. Fewer students per faculty member is an indicator of declining productivity. Is this a long-term trend (as it appears to be on the chart) or a momentary aberration?
If faculty productivity has fallen, one wonders why. In the competition for big-name “star” faculty, is the university signing contracts that limits the number of classes (or the size of the classes) that professors are required to teach? Is teaching load being shifted to junior tenured faculty, instructors, and to adjunct faculty? Are average class sizes getting larger or smaller? Is student interest in certain subject matters shrinking, with the result that some classes are languishing? Is the university subsidizing low-enrollment departments?
How many Africana Studies majors are there? How many Judaic Studies majors? Medieval & Renaissance Studies majors? Anthropology majors? Film study majors? Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Study majors? Do board members see a list of the number of majors enrolled in each department — along with the 10-year trend lines? Does the administration even capture information on:
- Number of faculty per department (broken down by tenured faculty, instructors, graduate students, adjuncts),
- Courses taught per department,
- Majors declared per department,
- Class enrollment per department, per faculty member
… along with 10-year trend data?
These kinds of questions go to the heart of the academic enterprise. But I don’t see this analysis done at William & Mary, or any other Virginia institution for that matter. And that makes me wonder. Do we not see this kind of analysis because board members aren’t demanding this information? Worse, do we not see this analysis because university administrations have no interest in the answers? Or worse yet, do we not see this kind of analysis because administrators lack the means to even collect the data and answer the questions if they wanted to?
Here is a list of W&M board members. If W&M administrators cannot be shamed into providing basic data, perhaps W&M board members can be shamed into demanding it.
James Bacon is the publisher of baconsrebellion.com