Dispelling myths about higher education spending

Information comes at us from all directions and in ever-changing formats in today’s world. It’s often difficult to tell the difference between fact and fiction, myth and reality, responsible journalism and tongue-in-cheek entertainment. This section in our newsletter was created to provide a resource for those who want to know the “rest of the story.”

Using headcount paints false picture of staffing increases

Yes, the number of people employed by the North Dakota University System has increased over the years. There are many reasons, but here’s an important one to remember: To serve our students’ growing needs and use resources efficiently, we hired part-time people at a faster rate than full-time people.

In Human Resources terms that means we increased our “headcount” but have hired more people for part-time positions than for full-time positions. Many businesses have adopted the same business model: part-time people are generally not paid benefits, so it costs less to employ them. An added benefit is that part-time faculty or “adjuncts” often bring business experience into their classrooms, and part-time employees may be people who want more flexibility in their lives.FTEvHeadcount FINAL

Instructional staff growth rate serves student growth rate

Full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment increased 7.5 percent between 2005 and 2013, and full-time equivalent instructional staff increased 22.2 percent.  For perspective, our student to faculty ratio at our largest institution, the University of North Dakota, is 20:1 and the average class size is 28, ensuring our students get the attention they need. This ratio rivals private schools where tuition is much higher.

On the other side of the spectrum, more students want online courses, which caused nearly an 8 percent increase in enrollment in online courses provided by NDUS in just one year. These classes are often taught by part-time faculty. Between 2005 and 2013, the number of students served (headcount) in our system increased by 14 percent.

Non-instructional staff growth rate appropriate

Staff positions that are part of academic units are included in “non-instructional” headcount numbers, but they are a direct part of teaching and research activities of faculty. These include positions such as researchers, clinicians, academic advisors and librarians. They are all critical to the success of our students and institutions, but their classification as non-instructional can be confusing.

Extra Credit FTE-HC math problems - CalibriWhen headcount employee numbers are converted to full-time equivalent or FTE, the rate of increase in instructional staff vs. non-instructional staff becomes clearer. Certainly there was an increase, but again, more part-time positions were filled to meet the needs of our students while wisely using resources. Two part-time librarians may have been hired to fill an open position formerly filled by one full-time librarian. Those two people (two “headcount” employees) working half-time (.50) now do the work of one (1.0) full-time equivalent employee.

Federal and state mandates require more staff support

The growth in “non-instructional” employees is related in part to specific federal or state mandates. For example, more staff is needed to help our institutions comply with increasing federal regulations including serving persons with disabilities or monitoring distance education providers. Last session, the North Dakota Legislature provided funds for increasing safety and security staff on our campuses and for hiring counselors to help improve mental health services for students. This is very important work that needs to be done, but it adds to our non-instructional employee headcount.

Headcount includes those not paid by state funds or tuition

In addition, many of the “non-instructional” employees included in the headcount numbers are not funded through state or tuition dollars at all. Their salaries are paid through federal research grants that their work is tied to, through self-supporting student services such as the bookstore and cafeteria or through “local funds” such as athletic event gate receipts. A ticket taker at a basketball game may only work two hours per week, but that employee is counted as one “non-instructional” employee in our headcount numbers, even though that person’s hourly wage is paid through ticket sales. Numbers experts at our institutions have sharpened their pencils and looked at entrepreneurial ways to provide needed services to students at little “state-appropriated” cost.

Two-thirds of salary dollars dedicated to academicsSalary Dollars Pie Chart

If “it takes a village to raise a child,” the same could be said about educating a student. Thousands of dedicated people devote their life’s work to preparing North Dakota’s students for their future careers. Two-thirds of the state and tuition dollars allocated for salaries in the North Dakota University System are invested in instructional and academic support. The other third goes to the people who manage the systems that support them, including payroll staff who pay faculty, staff and student workers; the financial aid office, which processes student aid; the registrar’s office, which keeps students’ official records; the physical plant staff, who manage the heating and cooling equipment and oversee the maintenance of our educational facilities. Each person is a valued member of the NDUS team and takes great pride in the work he or she does to ensure our students get the best education possible.


Extra credit question 

NDUS has increased its employee numbers in order to:

T     Provide quality education for a growing number of students and their changing needs.

T     Provide a wide variety of student services including more counseling, financial aid assistance and safety and security.

F     Hire a large number of high-paid administrators who work in lavish offices and fly around in airplanes.

T     Ensure compliance with federal and state regulations and mandates.

T     Be good stewards of the funding provided through state funding and student tuition.