The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

4 Considerations for Using Salary Data to Inform Compensation Decisions

Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when we published it last March. It’s been updated here with additional resources and related content. For more on using data strategically, drop by the Ask-Us-Anything event the CUPA-HR Data User Group this week, where higher ed HR professionals who are using CUPA-HR data to inform decisions on campus are answering questions and sharing their wisdom.   

Salary benchmarking is not one-size-fits-all — especially when you’re looking at groups as varied as administrators, professionals, staff and faculty on a college or university campus that is unique in its combination of Carnegie class, affiliation, regional location and mission. The question, then, is how to tailor your benchmarking efforts to take these variables into account and choose data that is appropriate to your unique needs.

From CUPA-HR’s research brief, Better Ways to Plan Your Budget Using CUPA-HR Data, here are four considerations to help you make the best use of salary data for compensation budget planning for your faculty and staff:

1) Which institutions should your college’s or university’s salaries be benchmarked against? Making the right comparisons — using position-specific data and carefully selected peers — can make all the difference when planning salaries that will make your institution competitive in the labor market. When you use CUPA-HR’s DataOnDemand tool, you can narrow down peer institutions by one or several institution-level criteria such as affiliation (public, private independent or private religious), Carnegie classification, enrollment size, geographic region, total expenses or other characteristics. Remember, balance is key: a larger comparison group gets you more robust data for comparison, but you must also make sure you are comparing to the right types of institutions that make sense for your goals.

2) Not all faculty are the same. Tenure track faculty, non-tenure track teaching faculty, non-tenure track research faculty and adjunct faculty may each require unique compensation strategies, as do faculty members from different disciplines and ranks. Will the same salary increase retain both tenured and non-tenured faculty? Does collective bargaining influence salary targets for some, but not all, of these faculty sub-groups? Are there unique, fast-growing, or in-demand departments/disciplines that require a separate strategy?

3) Keep in mind that administrator salaries are broadly competitive. Like faculty, many administrative positions in higher ed are competitive at a national or broad regional level. Often, institutions seek administrators with experience at other institutions of a similar size or mission, and with this experience and mobility comes an expectation of a competitive salary. As higher ed moves toward a “business model” where innovative leadership strategies are displacing more traditional shared governance models, finding administrators with the appropriate skills and expertise is becoming increasingly competitive, not only within higher education but sometimes against the broader executive employment market.

4) Employment competition varies for staff and professionals. Many non-exempt staff are hired from within local labor markets, and therefore other institutions or companies in your state or local Metropolitan Statistical Area might be a better salary comparison than a nationwide set of peer institutions. Exempt or professional staff, however, may be more limited to competition from the higher ed sector, perhaps on a state or regional level. Are your institution’s salaries for these employees having to compete with all higher ed institutions (even those very different from your own) within your state or region, regardless of the type or size of these institutions?

Read the full brief, and learn more about CUPA-HR’s DataOnDemand (DOD) tool, which allows you to benchmark your institution’s salaries against peer comparison groups that you create. CUPA-HR’s 2019 salary and benefits survey data are now available in DOD, and annual reports will be released throughout the spring.

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The CUPA-HR national office will be closed July 4 in observance of Independence Day.