This tale of wasteful spending and pointless bureaucracy in higher education sounds exactly like what’s currently happening in Washington, DC. Coincidence?

Douglas Belkin and Scott Thurm of the Wall Street Journal report.

Deans List: Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy—And Tuition

MINNEAPOLIS—When Eric Kaler became president of the University of Minnesota last year, he pledged to curb soaring tuition by cutting administrative overhead. But he hit a snag: No one could tell him exactly what it cost to manage the school.

Like many public colleges, the University of Minnesota went on a spending spree over the past decade, paid for by a steady stream of state money and rising tuition. Officials didn’t keep close tabs on their payroll as it swelled beyond 19,000 employees, nearly one for every 3½ students. “The more questions I asked, the less happy I was,” Dr. Kaler said.

Many of the newly hired, it turns out, were doing little teaching. A Wall Street Journal analysis of University of Minnesota salary and employment records from 2001 through last spring shows that the system added more than 1,000 administrators over that period. Their ranks grew 37%, more than twice as fast as the teaching corps and nearly twice as fast as the student body.

Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It’s part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.

The University of Minnesota illustrates the trend. Its main Twin Cities campus had the largest share of employees classified as “executive/administrative and managerial” among the 72 “very-high-research” public universities in the 2011-12 academic year, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.