Press Release

May 20, 2021

New Report Highlights Changes to the Professional Workforce in the Wake of the Pandemic

The higher ed professional workforce decreased slightly in size during the pandemic, though certain positions saw notable increases. According to CUPA-HR’s 2021 Professionals in Higher Education Annual Report released today, the number of full-time exempt higher ed employees decreased by 0.4 percent in the last year (2020-21), compared to an overall 4.4 percent increase in the prior year.

In the year spanning the COVID-19 pandemic, it is noteworthy that four of the five positions with the most growth are in health sciences. The lone exception was the budget unit supervisor position, also noteworthy given the severe budget challenges faced by many higher ed institutions in the past year.

The representation of women and racial/ethnic minorities within higher ed professional positions is slightly higher than last year, indicating that cuts made during the past year did not disproportionately impact the representation of women and minorities in professional positions overall.

Institutions of all classifications decreased their number of full-time exempt staff, though associate’s institutions experienced the largest decrease, at 6.0 percent. Doctoral institutions experienced the smallest decrease in full-time exempt staff, at 0.6 percent.

Other key findings include:

  • The overall median salary increase for higher ed professionals from 2019-20 to 2020-21 was 0.62 percent, the lowest increase since 2010.
  • Median salary increases were below 1 percent for all professional areas. Student affairs professionals received the largest median increase, whereas facilities and research and health sciences professionals received the lowest median increase (no increase).
  • Continuing trends from past years, women are well represented in most professional areas, except athletics, facilities, and information technology. Women are paid less than men in all professional areas except external affairs, where women are paid equitably to men. The pay gap between women and men is most pronounced within athletics.
  • Minority men make up less than one-tenth of higher ed professionals (9 percent). Minority women are better represented than minority men; they make up 15 percent of professionals.
  • Black, Hispanic/Latinx, and White women are paid less than White men in each professional area, but Asian women are paid the same or more than White men in five of nine professional areas.

The Professionals in Higher Education Survey is the largest of all CUPA-HR surveys, with data on more than 400 professional positions. A total of 265,053 professionals were reported for this year’s survey by 987 higher education institutions. This survey collects data at the incumbent (non-aggregate) level for all professionals reported, allowing for the collection of salary, sex, race/ethnicity, age, and years in position. To learn more about the Professionals in Higher Education Survey, read the overview. Salaries, demographic comparisons and detailed trend information are available in the full report.


CUPA-HR is the recognized authority on compensation surveys for higher education, with its salary surveys designed by higher ed HR professionals for higher ed HR professionals and other campus leaders. This marks CUPA-HR’s 24th year of data collection on higher education professionals. Learn more about CUPA-HR research.

CUPA-HR is higher ed HR. We serve higher education by providing the knowledge, resources, advocacy and connections to achieve organizational and workforce excellence. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, and serving more than 33,000 HR professionals and other campus leaders at nearly 2,000 member institutions and organizations around the country and abroad, the association offers learning and professional development programs, higher education salary and benefits data, extensive online resources and just-in-time regulatory and legislative information.

Contact Information
Erin Rosolina
Marketing Manager – Communications and Marketing