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Where to trim U of M spending should be obvious to leaders

University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is currently welcoming students back to the Twin Cities campus. Sadly, they will find some unwelcome changes.

Tuition will be increasing by 2% for Minnesota undergrads. Graduate students will be paying 3% more. Out-of-state students will see a 10% tuition increase. But it doesn’t stop there. The College of Science and Engineering is introducing a $2,000 annual surcharge, dorm rates will be 4.5% higher, and parking rates will see a similar increase.

While unwelcome, these increases should not be unexpected. Over the last 20 years tuition has gone up over 200% [PDF] — more than three times as fast as Minnesotans’ median household income [PDF].

The U’s administration has identified a decline in government support as the cause of these increases. According to its analysis, in 1989 the U received $3 in state appropriations for every dollar of tuition revenue it took in. In 2018 these state contributions were equivalent to only 75 cents per tuition dollar.

As a picture of the history of the U’s finances, this is entirely misleading. The decline in this ratio is due to the rapid increase in tuition. If tuition revenue had increased in step with inflation, the ratio of state dollars to tuition revenue would have actually increased. But even this is not the whole story. In an effort to mitigate the effects of rising tuition, state and federal governments have increased indirect funding for higher education.

If we “follow the money, [PDF], we find that tuition growth is due to rapidly increasing expenditures that are tied to increases in the number of employees at the U. And the most rapid growth among these employees is in the category labeled Professional and Administrative. It is easier to describe what members of this class of employees don’t do than what they do. They do not teach classes. They do not screw in light bulbs or clear snow. They do not conduct scientific research. Still the number of these employees has increased by 50% over the last 15 years. This growth trend has now reached a new pinnacle. Students returning this fall have the luxury of being greeted by two university presidents (one emeritus) — each being paid in excess of $600,000.

During the coming year these presidents and their colleagues on all levels of the school’s bureaucracy will be taking part in innumerable meetings where they will discuss the question of what needs to be done to address the university’s fiscal problems.

The answer will be staring them in the face.

Robert Katz works in the University of Minnesota Libraries Research and Learning Division.


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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 09/13/2019 - 11:37 am.

    Many of these people are involved in federal and state reporting requirements, like grant oversight and management, Title IX, departmental management and HR. These things were made necessary by law, in some cases, or past issues, like the now ancient Rajender decision. Easy to make a simple declarative, the facts are much more nuanced.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 09/13/2019 - 12:36 pm.

    I wait – patiently – for someone to explain to me what a university president does that merits an annual salary 50% higher than that of the President of the United States. Defenders of ludicrous salaries usually fall back on some variation of “Look at all the responsibility s/he is carrying,” to which my own mental response is “And how does that compare with the responsibility of the President?” So far, nothing I’ve seen regarding the salary of the U’s president is very persuasive, and frankly, that’s true for CEO salaries, as well. What’s the ratio of the U’s president’s salary to that of the average, or even median, U employee?

  3. Submitted by Pat Terry on 09/13/2019 - 01:12 pm.

    What nonsense. The growth in those positions is a tiny fraction of the cost increases.

    I actually would have been curious to see what all these “non-essential”positions do. The author just told use what they don’t do, and decides that they can be cut. What kind of analysis is that?

    I know its Community Voices, but geez Minnpost, have some minimal requirements for publication.

  4. Submitted by Aaron Rendahl on 09/13/2019 - 03:50 pm.

    Until two years ago, I was a P&A who taught classes and did research. I don’t know how common this may be or not, but it’s absolutely not true to claim that this class of positions as a whole is extraneous to the University mission. I suspect it’s more likely that the increase in these positions is tied to a decrease in tenured faculty positions, but I’d like to see some hard-nosed reporting on this, not some opinion piece with no facts to back it up.

  5. Submitted by Peggy Rader on 09/13/2019 - 05:48 pm.

    P&A employees at the U definitely teach and definitely do research. I worked at the U for almost 15 years and knew many of these talented people. Many of them work on the basis of “soft money,” which means their salaries come from grants, not the general funds of the U and certainly not from tuition. The U has also (it may be done by now) been doing a thorough re-evaluation of its job classifications and moving a number of P&A employees into civil service classifications. It’s true, people were in P&A positions who should not have been. When I started at the U in 1997 I was hired as a P&A although I should not have been. P&A employees are more expensive than civil service primarily because they are included in the faculty-level set of benefits, the retirement benefits of which are exceptionally generous. I’ve been gone for eight years so I don’t know the status of those benefits, but I would say a nice chunk could be saved by reducing the amount the U puts into the IRAs of every faculty and P&A employee: 13% of your paycheck every two weeks.

  6. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 09/13/2019 - 05:49 pm.

    At least in the language departments, including English, and math, the primary teaching staff has devolved into the non-tenured faculty who are designated Professional and Administrative. There are hundreds of them, paid much less than tenured professors and teaching more FTE students than tenured faculty do. A penny-pinching administrator’s bargain, especially since they can be dismissed more or less at will if enrollments fall or a program is eliminated.

    I’m going to hazard a guess, too (I’m a retired UMN faculty member), that the hugely disparate constituencies the U’s president must satisfy makes her job much more difficult than that of, for example, the hugely-paid president/CEO of U.S. Bank or 3M. Six-hundred grand is not thirty-five million per year plus stock options. And you have alums, students, civil service staff, faculty, competing administrators, the Legislature and the [mostly uninformed] taxpaying public to contend with. It’s a dance few can do well, and they don’t get paid too much to perform that dance. Very much in public, too!

  7. Submitted by Mary Jetter on 09/13/2019 - 06:33 pm.

    It’s ironic the author of this piece did not do his research about what P&A staff do prior to writing this. I’m a P&A and I teach. Anyone with a “teaching specialist” or “lecturer” title is P&A and teaches. There are hundreds of us at the University.

  8. Submitted by Andrew Andrusko on 09/16/2019 - 07:58 am.

    Part of the inherent reason that tuition costs increase at a high rate is the high tuition, high aid model for which the entire industry has adopted.

    Somewhat ironically Dean Bresciani was recently quoted in the Fargo Inforum as stating that the entire sector is competing for students, that the University of Minnesota and it’s leadership are essentially buying their way to enrollment stability at a time of national student enrollment declines by offering more scholarships (across all income levels). This is essentially to say that the sticker price has increased but the net cost is staying somewhat level by enticing students to attend.

    I would think the other strategy that will soon be announced by Joan Gabel will be a trend toward loosening of academic standards and accepting more freshman students out of high school to help offset enrollment declines as well. The messaging will be that the University is going to accept more Minnesota students, but the effect will be to entice more students away from MnSCU and private institutions in the region to their detriment.

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