The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

The Higher Ed Staff Workforce Is Aging

With nearly one-third of the U.S. higher education staff workforce age 55 or older, the implications are many for colleges and universities. New research by CUPA-HR on the aging of the higher ed workforce highlights some challenges institutions will likely face in the coming years as staff begin to retire in large numbers.

Here’s what the study found:

  • Higher ed has a greater share of older workers than the U.S. workforce in general.
  • Skilled craft, facilities, and service/maintenance areas have the highest percentages of older workers, with nearly 40 percent or more of these workers age 55 and older.
  • Pay inequity remains an issue for higher ed staff. While salaries for men show a steady increase with years in position, salaries are largely the same for women with between eight and 22 years in their position, suggesting that when staying in the same job long-term, women’s pay increases consistently fall short of men’s pay increases.
  • Pay compression is also an issue for higher ed staff, with the positions of deputy head of student admissions, IT programmer analyst and student success professional topping the list for which institutions pay longer-serving employees equal to or less than new hires.

What does this mean for higher ed? Says Adam Pritchard, Ph.D., senior survey researcher at CUPA-HR and lead author of the research report, “Higher education leaders must act to ensure that the pipeline for key positions is adequate to fulfill future staffing needs. Seeking external expertise in a competitive job market is going to be more challenging, so efforts to prepare staff for internal promotion must become more of the norm.”

Other steps higher ed leaders can take now to prepare for a possible shortage in staff in the coming years include developing a plan to anticipate and address shortages in highly competitive jobs; identifying and addressing pay equity and salary compression issues; and rethinking retention strategies.

Read the full brief, The Challenges of an Aging Higher Ed Workforce, and check out CUPA-HR’s other research publications.

This brief was made possible with support from TIAA. 


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