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Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered - Monday Musings

By Bill Berg on Aug 20, 2012

Have you done everything you can to diminish the impact of the administrative lattice and the academic ratchet on your costs?

Tags: administrative, book review


Earlier this summer, I re-read Robert Zemsky, William F. Massy, and Gregory R. Wegner’s 2005 Remaking the American University: Market-Smart and Mission-Centered. What continues to make this book so relevant is its analysis of college costs and the forces that drive them. Despite the fact that the authors write from the vantage point of pre-recession 2005, their analysis remains compelling. They coined the terms “administrative lattice” and “academic ratchet” to describe the internal factors contributing to college costs. The administrative lattice describes the growth of administrative structure that arose in response to:

  • Book by Robert Zemsky, William F. Massy and Gregory R. Wegner.faculty consignment of traditionally academic service functions to administration;
  • increased regulation from federal, state and accreditation agencies; and
  • responsiveness (market sensitivity) to increased student demand for services (residence hall upgrades, counseling services, recreational facilities, etc.).


The academic ratchet, on the other hand, referred to “…the shift of faculty attention and effort away from institutionally defined goals and toward personally and professionally defined pursuits.” The results, the authors observe, included:

  • a division of labor that gradually shifted the activities of the day-to-day operation of the institution away from faculty and toward administration;
  • decreased teaching demands for newly-hired faculty in order to provide more time for research and other contributions to the discipline; and (partly in response to this development)
  • a rapid increase in the hiring of part-time and adjunct faculty.


Zemsky, et al. point out that these internal contributors to higher college costs were supplemented by several external factors:

  • the increased regulatory demands noted above in the administrative lattice;
  • the high inflation of the 1970’s;
  • the steadily declining state appropriations that led to rapid increases in tuition at public college and universities; and
  • the dramatic increase in market demand for a place in the entering classes at the nation’s most selective public and private college and universities.


The authors’ stated purpose in writing this book was to describe how to make the modern American university more publicly-relevant. Since 2005, state appropriations for higher education have continued to decline, new regulations have evolved, and student demand at the nation’s premier college continues to increase. At a time when families face continuing constraints on income and college savings, controlling the increase in college costs has never been more relevant.

Before you make a decision on next year’s tuition, have you done everything you can to diminish the impact of the administrative lattice and the academic ratchet on your costs?

(This book is available at Barnes & Noble.)


Bill BergAbout the reviewer: Enrollment Management Consultant Bill Berg comes to S&K from Furman University, where he most recently served as Vice President for Enrollment. His leadership in enrollment management included overseeing offices of admissions, financial aid, planning and institutional research, and student employment. During this period, Bill successfully implemented a strategic plan designed to increase enrollment, increase selectivity, and decrease financial aid expenditures. Prior to his role as Vice President for Enrollment, Bill served as the Director of Planning and Institutional Research. In that position he supported student recruitment and retention efforts with financial aid optimization studies, enrollment projections, and admissions and retention studies.

Before Furman University, Bill served in leadership positions at Rhodes College and DePauw University. He has been active in professional organizations such as the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) consortium, College Board, Commission of Colleges – Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Bill brings an analytic and data-driven approach to enrollment management and is a natural fit with the S&K team. Connect with Bill on LinkedIn and Twitter @BillBerg2.


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