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FastStats: Is Your Administrative Staff the "Right" Size?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017  
Posted by: Christina Mimms
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By Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell, Head of School, Currey Ingram Academy, Brentwood, TN

Published: November 2017



“Right-sizing” our schools is an ongoing and critical strategic question for all heads of school. Right-sizing boils down to determining the “right” number/ratio of students, faculty, administrators etc., to deliver the mission and to fulfill your value proposition, while staying on the path of financial sustainability. For this FastStats, one element of “right-sizing,” administrative staffing, is examined. More specifically, has the number of administrators relative to the number of students increased over the past 15 years?

A previous FastStats (see FastStats April 2013: Administrative Staffing) explored this topic and found that there are increasingly more administrators for the same number students. Four years later, we revisit this topic to see if the trend continues and update the commentary.

In Figure 1, the median number of administrators at NAIS and SAIS schools between 2001-2002 and 2016-2017 is presented. The reader can see that in both NAIS and SAIS schools the median number of administrators[1] has increased. For NAIS schools, the median was 9 in 2001-2002 and was 14 in 2016-2017; an increase of over 50%. SAIS schools experienced a slightly larger increase from 9.2 to 15 over the same time frame. In either case, the sheer number of administrators has shown a healthy increase.


In Figure 2, the median enrollment of both NAIS and SAIS schools is displayed and shows essentially no change between 2001-2002 and 2016-2017. Although, there were several years in between 2001-2002 and 2016-2017 that the median enrollment was modestly above the bookend years.[2] Circling back to the primary question, it’s clear that enrollment growth does not explain increased administrator staffing.


With increased enrollment accounted for, Figure 3 offers a more informed and precise look at the trend. When the median enrollment is divided by the median number of administrators, the number of students per administrator is determined. Figure 3 clearly shows a rather steep decrease in the number of students per administrator over the past 15 years in both SAIS and NAIS schools. For NAIS schools, there were 41.1 students for every administrator in 2001-2002. By 2016-2017, the number of students per administrator lowered to 27. This represents a 53% difference. For SAIS schools, the number of students per administrator was 59 in 2001-2002, by 2016-2017 the number dropped to 39. This represents a 60% difference.[3]



Statistically, it is clear we are employing more administrators for fewer students. With that said, the essential question is, “why?” Moreover, does the result of this analysis represents a problem?[4] Or, does it represent schools strategically responding to the needs of the times and their clientele?

Although I’m hardly writing this from an objective perspective as a head of school, I suggest that the increase in administrators is nicely explained and justified by any number of factors. It is likely the case that the culture and expectations of independent schools continue to evolve, thus requiring, among many other things, more administrators.

For example, due to increased competition, are the expectations of boards and parents different? Has the head's role evolved? Does the fact that more heads are required to spend so much of their time on external relations and fundraising nowadays that internal tasks, once done more frequently by heads of schools, are being done by other administrators (e.g., curriculum oversight, hiring of teachers, etc.)?

In response to the necessities of our time, are there simply more administrative positions needed (e.g., diversity, global education, technology, service learning, etc.)? The answer to these questions, based on my experience and DASL data shared in previous FastStats Revisiting the Technology Arms Race in Independent Schools, is almost certainly, “yes.”

Independent schools continue to evolve. There has clearly been a push to add more programming, and as a result more staffing. Whether a savvy response to the market, or a programmatic arms race, the more than 50% increase in the number of administrators per (tuition-paying) student over the the past 15 years has disproportionately impacted the beyond-inflation tuition increases we have all experienced.

An interesting market reaction has occurred. There is an increasing number of streamlined or “no-frills” independent schools. In Looking Ahead: New School ModelsNAIS President Donna Orem describes numerous recent additions to the independent school market. Not all, but many of the models are essentially selling the core “college prep” element of our schools without the supporting elements. One result being fewer administrative staff, thus, a better price point.  

Ultimately, this analysis provides only a framework for determining the "right" administrative structure for a given school. A school would be wise to use this data, along with local data such as constituent surveys and solid outcome variables (e.g., standardized test results, college placements, etc.) to determine what is optimum.

[1] As measured by the DASL variable Administrator FTE.

[2] The graph also shows that the median enrollment in SAIS schools is significantly greater than for NAIS schools by over 200 students in a given year. In short, the typical SAIS school is much larger than the typical NAIS school. This is mainly due to a larger proportion of K-12 schools in SAIS versus NAIS, as a whole.

[3] Note that although SAIS schools had a greater percentage decrease in efficiency over the past 15 years than NAIS schools, SAIS schools (39) were still much more efficient than NAIS schools (27). 

[4] In other FastStats articles over the years I have investigated increases in other staffing categories (e.g., faculty) and none of them come even close to the increases among administrators.



Dr. Jeffrey Mitchell is the head of Currey Ingram Academy in Brentwood, TN. He can be reached via email at



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