Rising prices of college tuition at institutions of higher education such as Boston University are likely due to rising costs in employee benefits, according to a recent study conducted by researchers from the American Institutes for Research’s Delta Cost Project.
Donna Desrochers, principal researcher at AIR and coauthor of the study, said benefit costs played a large role in tuition increases for universities and colleges across the board.
“Overall spending for wages and salaries was modestly increasing, but benefits were going up quite fast,” she said.
At BU, full professors’ salaries have increased by $40,000 since 2006, according to the 2013 American Association of University Professors Faculty Salary Survey.
The total benefits offered to BU employees increased by approximately 18 percent from 2009 to 2012, according to the BU’s Abridged Economic Impact Report.
“When you increase salaries, you need revenue,” said BU spokesman Colin Riley. “Our single largest component is tuition. [BU has] over a $2 billion operating budget and higher education is an expensive proposition.”
According to BU President Robert Brown’s Fall 2013 State of the University address, employee benefits are projected to increase by almost 7.5 percent in the 2014 fiscal year budget, with health care costs projected to increase by 6.6 percent. Brown noted that benefit expenses now total over 30 percent of employee salaries.
“It is very straightforward to understand if the expenses increase, then the cost to attend increases,” said BU spokesman Colin Riley. “But Boston University has kept tuition increase below the national average for similar schools, meaning four-year research universities.”
Barton Lipman, chair of the College of Arts and Sciences’ economics department, said some of the study’s findings are reflected at BU.
“It’s clear that benefits costs have created pressure on the university. I would suspect that is one of the biggest factors [causing an increase in the price of tuition],” Lipman said. “Universities are extremely labor-intensive if you think of it. Most of what universities spend on is salaries.”
The study also noted a rise in administrative and part time faculty hires, Desrochers said. Researchers found that professional positions such as admissions and human resources staff outpaced enrollment growth.
“Private institutions need to look at their rate of hiring,” Desrochers said. “Certainly private institutions have been investing in students, but they need to be careful.”
Riley said BU now has administrative positions that did not exist in the university’s past.
“Go back 20 years,” he said. “You didn’t have so many IT people, you didn’t have so much technology in use, you didn’t have as large a residential presence on campus. With those buildings — new buildings — you need people to maintain and clean them. When you offer Wi-Fi and Ethernet, you need technicians to do that.”
Desrochers said widespread growth in student services explains the increase in administrative positions on college campuses.
“Administrative positions have increased in all types of universities … at pace with enrollment growth,” Desrochers said. “Student counseling, financial aid, admissions, those types of jobs represent 25 percent of jobs on campus … By 2012, on average, you had more administrators than you did full-time faculty.”
The study also found that colleges and universities are hiring more part-time faculty.
Lipman said hiring part-time faculty can be problematic.
“It’s tricky to hire a lot of part time faculty,” Lipman said. “No matter how hard they work, if they are here one semester and then gone, you have a professor you like and [if] next semester you want to take a course with them or get a letter of recommendation from them, they are gone. Our department has been trying to find ways to find lecturers more focused on teaching.”