J. Scott Moody & Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D. | February 23, 2017

To get to the national average, Oklahoma higher ed needs to shed 13,680 non-instructional workers

J. Scott Moody & Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D.

The U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of all types of data on Oklahoma’s higher education system. The chart below uses Census data to examine the dramatic size and growth in the number of non-instructional workers (per 100 private-sector workers) in Oklahoma’s higher education system.

There are two major points gleaned from this chart.

First, Oklahoma’s higher education system employs 2.5 non-instructional workers per 100 private sector workers, which is a whopping 70 percent higher than the national average and the 5th highest level in the country for 2015 (the latest data available). To get to the national average, Oklahoma’s higher education system would have to shed 13,680 non-instructional workers—to 19,489 workers from the current level of 33,169 workers. This would result in total annual savings, on average, of $374,835,665 in wages and salaries—in addition to the millions of dollars in supplemental benefits that would be saved.

Second, and even more troubling, is that the linear growth line shows that the rate of growth in non-instructional workers is higher than the national average. And though a dip in 2014 did moderate Oklahoma’s growth rate somewhat, that dip does not appear to be a permanent one. A significant rebound occurred in 2015.

Some politicians and higher education officials have tried to explain away Oklahoma’s elevated level of non-instructional employees. For example, some focus on the 15-year growth in “health care services and research” as the primary driver of this trend. But that explanation falls short for two reasons.

First, the bloat in non-instructional staff exists over the entire 24-year period. The differential with the national average is not a recent phenomenon. This suggests a systemic overstaffing relative to higher education systems in other states.

Second, taxpayers can reasonably ask why Oklahoma is in the “health care services and research” business in the first place. Is the private sector somehow deficient in this area, such that the state must put taxpayer dollars at risk for these activities? Just because higher education is doing it doesn’t mean they should be doing it.

In addition, some officials blame Oklahoma’s growth in non-instructional staff on the need to comply with federal regulations. But they don’t explain why Oklahoma would be more severely impacted by federal regulations than other states.

No one would dispute the need for non-instructional workers. But this chart strongly suggests that Oklahoma’s policymakers must demand a thorough accounting from higher education officials as to why the state diverges not only in the size of its non-instructional workforce but also why it has historically grown faster than the national average.

J. Scott Moody

OCPA Research Fellow

OCPA research fellow J. Scott Moody (M.A., George Mason University) serves as chief executive officer of State Budget Solutions. Formerly a senior economist at the Tax Foundation and a senior economist at the Heritage Foundation, he has twice testified before the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Moody is the co-creator of the Tax Foundation’s popular “State Business Tax Climate Index.” His work has appeared in Forbes, CNN Money, State Tax Notes, The Oklahoman, and several other publications. This article is an updated version of an analysis published in 2008.

Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D.

OCPA Research Fellow

Wendy P. Warcholik (Ph.D., George Mason University) is an OCPA research fellow. She formerly served as an economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, and was the chief forecasting economist for the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services. She is a co-creator (with J. Scott Moody) of the Tax Foundation’s popular “State Business Tax Climate Index.”

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