North Dakota Has More Non-Teaching University Employees Per Capita Than Any Other State

When the 2013-2015 biennium ends on June 30 the taxpayers of the State of North Dakota will have increased spending on our 11-campus university system by 133 percent over the last decade, which averages out to a 24 percent increase per biennium during that time.

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From the 2005 – 2007 biennium to present North Dakota’s university system has averaged a 24 percent per-biennium increase in spending, yet enrollment has increased only 1.9 percent per biennium. Chart via Legislative Council.

Meanwhile, during that same time full time equivalent enrollment at our universities has increased less than 8 percent, or about 1.9 percent per biennium.

If we divide total higher education appropriations by the number of full time equivalent students we see that the per-FTE student spending has more than doubled since the 2005-2007 biennium, from just under $11,000 per FTE student to nearly $24,000 per FTE student. This explosion in taxpayer appropriations to higher education has made North Dakota the leader in the nation when it comes to increased spending on universities. Since 2008 North Dakota’s increase in spending on higher education has not only been the fastest in the nation, but almost 7 times faster than the second place Wyoming’s rate of growth.

And that’s not counting the increases in fees and tuition paid by students and/or their parents. Tuition at the state’s two “research institutions” (UND and NDSU) has increased more than 48 percent for resident North Dakota students since 2005. Tuition at the state’s four-year and two-year schools has increased 45 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

Both taxpayers and students are paying significantly more for higher education, so what are they getting for their money? Keep in mind, despite these mind-blowing increases in revenues, the universities are still crying poverty. In March, as lawmakers passed yet another increase to the higher education budget, the universities could be heard blaming tuition increases on the failure of lawmakers to keep up with their “cost to continue” expenses.

But that bureaucratic myth making aside, the question is…where has all of this money gone?

Here’s one explanation in the form of Grand Forks Herald headline: “ND tops in rate of non-teaching jobs at public colleges and universities”

From the article:

North Dakota has far more non-teaching jobs at its public colleges and universities per capita than any other state, a gap that’s growing according to a recent National Education Association report.

About 91 people per 10,000 residents, more than twice the national average, work in non-instructional jobs in public higher education in North Dakota. That’s almost twice the rate of instructional staff on the state’s public campuses.

The state with the next-highest proportion of non-instructional staff was Wyoming, with 74 per 10,000 people. Nevada had the lowest level, with 23 per 10,000.

I’ve been making this point for some time now. I only have data through the 2011-2013 school year, which I had to obtain by way of a request through Legislative Council from a friendly lawmaker because the universities gave me the runaround when I asked them, but the contrast between instructional and non-instructional hiring is startling and I have no doubt that this trend has continued into more recent years.

The number of non-instructional employees at the universities as grown substantially, by about 40 percent over the last decade through the end of the last biennium. The number of instructional positions, though, has increased only 3.5 percent.

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Spending has soared at the universities but enrollment has not. So where has the increased spending gone? Not toward paying the people who actually educate the kids but rather towards paying all of the people who are doing other, non-education things on the campuses.

Which kind of makes you think that the runaway spending growth on higher education in North Dakota hasn’t been about education so much as other things. Like bureaucratic empire building.

Meanwhile, the university system’s attempts to spin these numbers are laugh-out-loud funny. They think the numbers are because North Dakota has a ridiculous number of public universities for a state with a tiny population.

And, well, yeah:

Billie Jo Lorius, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota University System, said she is unsure how the NEA — the national teacher’s union — came up with its findings, because the numbers didn’t line up with system data.

“Maybe it’s simply just a reflection of us being a lower-populated state,” she said.

North Dakota could also top the rankings for higher education staff because its a sparse state with 11 public colleges and universities, including North Dakota State University in Fargo. The state’s rate of instructional higher ed staff is also the highest in the U.S., with its 46 per 10,000 residents well ahead of Oregon in second with 40 per 10,000.

“North Dakota voters have said they value this access to higher education and that’s why we continue to have this broad access,” Lorius said, referring to the number of public colleges North Dakota has for its size. “But to have those 11 institutions, it takes staff to make sure the school has enough people to properly run the program.”

You’ll note that while, yes, North Dakota also leads the nation in instructional staff the disparity between our state and the rest of the country isn’t so pronounced. North Dakota is at 46 per 10,000 residents in instructional staff, with Oregon second at 40 per 10,000.

In non-instructional staff we’re at 91 per 10,000 while Wyoming is at 74.

But all that aside, again we have to ask…where is all of this money going? Big taxpayer investments in higher education haven’t made the cost of getting a degree any cheaper for students. As I’ve already pointed out, students have seen big tuition increases right alongside those big appropriation increases.

Nor have academic outcomes improved. According to numbers from the Chronicle of Higher Education, completion rates at North Dakota’s four year and two year institutions are about as ugly as they’ve ever been.

At the four year public institutions the four year, on-time graduation rate is about 23.3 percent. It rises to about 50.3 percent for students getting a four year degree after six years, which is a great deal for universities which get two more years of tuition and fees but a terrible deal for students who have to pay for two more years and see the beginning of their careers delayed.

The two year schools aren’t any better. They have about 25.9 completions for every 100 students.

All of these numbers are remained largely static for the last decade.

What are we getting for the money we’re spending on higher education? We aren’t taking financial burdens off students, and we aren’t improving academic outcomes, but we have exploded the non-teaching payrolls at the universities.

I’m pretty sure that’s not what taxpayers thought they were buying. So who do we hold accountable for this?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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