The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Using CUPA-HR Data to Make Data-Driven Decisions About Changes in Faculty and Staff Size

Many higher education institutions will face a tough road in the coming months. While the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still unknown, it is almost certain that most higher education institutions will be confronted with the challenges of lower student enrollment and, with the resulting decrease in tuition revenue, reduced operating budgets. Many HR departments will soon be asked to strategically reduce the size of the workforce while retaining critical operational functions.

Although this pandemic is unprecedented in scope, the data needed to make many informed decisions is already available. Data-driven decisions around social and physical distancing, for example, have already begun to demonstrate their effectiveness. Higher ed HR can also use existing data to inform workforce decisions in the weeks and months ahead.

Tapping Into CUPA-HR Data

CUPA-HR surveys of administrators, professionals, staff and faculty are the most comprehensive source of salary and workforce data in higher education — with data on over 787,000 individual positions from nearly 1,300 higher education institutions. Like many higher ed HR professionals, you may know the value of these surveys for benchmarking salaries and evaluating diversity or pay equity. However, you may never have used the data to review numbers of incumbents reported for different positions to inform your workforce planning efforts. In times like these, this data can help you make critical decisions about reducing faculty and staff levels today and increasing them again when the time comes.

Rethinking Your Benchmark Institutions

Your institution may be accustomed to benchmarking against institutions with similar enrollment numbers or total operating budgets. You should definitely be running these analyses now. As you do, be sure to revisit your comparison groups. After all, CUPA-HR collected 2019-20 data effective November 1, 2019, and the peer institutions you typically benchmark against may also transform in the coming months. The good news is, you don’t need to wait until next year to get useful data — many institutions were already operating with smaller budgets and enrollment levels than yours at the time of data collection. All you need to do is creatively rethink which institutions can become this year’s temporary comparison group for where your institution expects to be in the fall semester.

Data from institutions at your expected future enrollment or budget level can provide a roadmap for how smaller institutions manage staffing levels overall, and for individual functional areas. To empower HR professionals to make data-driven decisions about changes to staff and faculty size, CUPA-HR has developed a new statistic in DataOnDemand Multi-Position Reports (for professionals and staff) and Multi-Discipline Reports (for faculty) — the median number of position incumbents per institution. This statistic will tell you how many employees the typical institution in your comparison group employs within each position. Compare a group of positions you consider to be part of a functional area, and you gain the ability to benchmark staff size for each individual functional area or department on campus.

Getting Step-by-Step Guidance

Performing this type of analysis is undoubtedly new for most higher education HR and DataOnDemand users. To assist with benchmarking staff size using DataOnDemand, we’ve developed a new resource that walks you through the analysis process step-by-step. DataOnDemand How-to Guide: Benchmarking for Staff Size is available to download along with our other research resources.

Our research staff at CUPA-HR are always here to help. If you have data needs or analysis advice, there is a good chance that others in higher education HR are facing the same challenges. Let us know your ideas or needs at Ask Research, or reach out to share challenges and your data-driven solutions with your peers in our Connect Data User Group.

This blog post was contributed by Adam Pritchard, Ph.D., senior survey researcher at CUPA-HR.


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