UConn staff size expanding rapidly
Increase in services and amenities responsible for increase in administrative positions
Over the past decade, the University of Connecticut has seen growth in the number of professional and administrative staff that has outpaced both new faculty hires and enrollment growth. This staffing increase has come in a variety of areas, from enrichment programs such as Global Affairs, federal compliance offices and expansion of the university communications office.
If anything became clear in researching this article, it is that the extremely complex structure of a public flagship university such as UConn makes it difficult to make broad statements about trends at the university. Offices are constantly being reorganized and altering their scope and mission, which can make it hard to determine where exactly the increase in staff numbers comes from.
"Over time, there are reorganizations of the various units and particular offices, so the definition of the office in 2004 and the staffing for it could change over time," said Pamela Roelfs, director of institutional research at UConn.
However, the clear trend is that the administration at UConn is growing faster than its student body, and similar growth is occurring at public and private colleges across the country. The New England Center for Investigative Reporting released an analysis of federal data in February showing that "the number of non-academic administrators and professional employees at U.S. universities has more than doubled in the last 25 years."
According to data from the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, the number of employees counted as full-time "professional staff" has grown by 22.4 percent, to 1,808, from 2004 to 2012. This is compared to a growth of 12.5 percent in the undergraduate student body, which was 17,170 at the Storrs campus in 2012.
Programs and amenities
Pinpointing specific areas of growth can be difficult. However, as the university expands the number and kinds of services provided to students, offices add staff members to cope with the increased burden. In general, these expansions can be grouped into two kinds: one related to improving the academic experience of students outside the classroom, and another providing the university's safety, infrastructure and legal needs.
In recent decades, universities have engaged in a kind of "arms race" to compete for the best and brightest students. Students - and parents - of our generation expect a wide range of amenities, enrichment programs and services beyond high-quality classroom instruction. Programs such as Study Abroad, the Honors Office and learning communities have become important enticements as UConn enhances its national profile.
"Colleges have to provide all these things in part because they have come to be expected, because prospective students and their parents look to see that they are there, and because without them recruiting students becomes difficult," said history department chair Chris Clark. Growth in these areas "enable UConn to provide services that formerly did not exist, or not on the same scale."
University spokesperson Stephanie Reitz mentioned ongoing discussions about the state of UConn's recreation facility.
"While some may argue that a modern Rec Center isn't technically 'necessary,' the reality is that students expect and should receive the appropriate amenities that reflect today's needs and wishes. Parents and prospective students do notice an outdated, inadequately sized facility when considering where to enroll," she said.
As UConn continues an ambitious campaign to build more classroom and research space - and a new rec center - there must be staff who participate in its planning and implementation.
Another area that has seen growth in recent years is the expansion of counseling and mental health services, which this year moved into freshly renovated quarters in the Jaime Homero Arjona Building. Reitz said expansion of this office "is actually a very good thing, though, because it indicates that students are seeking and receiving the services they need."
Keeping the institution functioning
The second category of growth is in offices that provide the infrastructure and ensure the safety of the university community. Due to the rural location of UConn, "we have some services and expenses that fall under administrative costs that other universities simply do not have," said Reitz.
She mentioned the fire department and power generation facility, which a campus in a more urban setting would rely on the surrounding community to provide. UConn also maintains the roads and land on campus.
The university also has to provide a sophisticated public safety network.
"Just think of one small development in the past five to six years, arising after the Virginia Tech shootings: the equipping and operation of university-wide alert systems, which people had to design and run. These are all elaborations on what used to be a simpler university system," Clark said.
Other areas in which the university must retain full-time employees who do not directly affect students' classroom experience are audit compliance, ethics, diversity and financial management.
From 2004-2013, the Office of Audit, Compliance and Ethics expanded from four staff members to 12. The university must comply with a vast and growing number of federal and state regulations, not to mention ensuring compliance with its own internal policies. For example, the Clery Act of 1990 requires universities receiving federal funds under Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 to "disclose campus crime statistics and security information," according to a federal handbook for universities.
At a Jan. 29, 2014 Board of Trustees meeting, Police Chief Barbara O'Connor announced she was expecting the university to receive fines for noncompliance under this legislation. UConn has to retain staff that work full-time to make sure violations of this nature do not happen.
How UConn compares
Compared to other universities, UConn maintains a low ratio of administrators to students despite the recent increases. Data provided by the university identify the "student/manager" ratio as 248:1, as opposed to 82:1 at Purdue and 40:1 at Illinois. However, the data did not define who is counted as a manager.
"We're committed to continuing to find ways to use our personnel's time and talents as efficiently as we can," said Reitz, both to keep administrative costs low and provide the best services to students.
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