The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

Show Them the Money: An Approach to Faculty Salary Adjustments

moneyAfter years of providing less-than-competitive salaries for faculty, the University of Montevallo recently set out on an endeavor that included collaboration among the finance, academic affairs and human resources departments to improve salaries for its faculty.

Faculty salary data in the 2011-12 academic year for the state of Alabama indicated that Montevallo was seriously behind other public institutions in the state. The university ranked 12th in average salaries for full professors among Alabama’s 14 public institutions and 13th for assistant professors. Associate professors fared worst of all, with the institution ranking last for average salaries of that group.

From securing buy-in from the board of trustees and making the funding a priority to implementing a strategic plan, the university eventually succeeded in significantly increasing salaries for its 150 full-time and 80 adjunct faculty (while increasing its statewide ranking as well).

In a concurrent session at the CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo 2015, Barbara Forrest, director of HR and risk management, Suzanne Ozment, provost and vice president for academic affairs, and DeAnna Smith, vice president for business affairs at University of Montevallo shared how the institution made its faculty salaries more competitive:

Strategic Plan
To address the poor rankings, the institution created a strategic plan to improve faculty and staff salaries. With information from a faculty salary study in 2013, the institution focused on revising its peer class for comparison purposes, establishing competitive nine-month salaries factoring in years in rank, reviewing promotion increases and standardizing department chair compensation.

In addition, the institution set out to increase compensation for adjunct faculty by 28 percent over three years and provide compensation for thesis advisors, interdisciplinary studies mentors and other positions.

Faculty Buy-In
The collaborating departments didn’t do it alone. Consultants came on board to help establish integrity for the process, provide objectivity and context of best practices and promote faculty participation.

To help ensure the success of the endeavor, the institution and its consultants made involvement of the faculty a high priority, hosting a series of consultant-led conversations with faculty early in the process to identify issues and objectives, administering a faculty survey, and providing regular updates to deans, department chairs, salary committee members and others.

The institution also took on a position of sharing all information about salary administration, including individual salaries.

The new peer group established by the institution and its consultants contained public institutions that were comparable by mission, size, degree programs and geographic location. To make the appropriate market adjustments, the institution not only made salaries more competitive, but also eliminated performance-based distinctions in favor of discipline-based distinctions. Ninety percent of faculty qualified for a market adjustment of anywhere from 3 percent to nearly 15 percent, while only 21 individuals received only 1 percent increases due to having salaries at, above or near the market rate.

The standardization of department chair compensation resulted in a plan that offered a 9-month salary based on discipline, rank and years in rank, half-time teaching load and a $15,000 administrative stipend for summer duties.

Before the salary changes were made, 86 percent of faculty did not believe they were compensated fairly compared to faculty in the same discipline at peer institutions. There was also a concern about lack of transparency and consistency in making adjustments, the lack of consideration of years in rank and the need for a long-term sustainable plan.

During its first year of adjustments, Montevallo did not see a significant Improvement on state comparison reports but with a continuous commitment — annual market assessments, utilizing peer comparison tools including CUPA-HR’s DataOnDemand and hiring new faculty at appropriate salary levels without causing salary compression — the institution has seen positive results.

Since the changes, the members of the salary committee have agreed that faculty salaries are “in a good place” and that the new process for administering salary adjustments “contributes to overall satisfaction with faculty compensation.” Since implementing changes, the institution has seen improvement in its rankings, moving up as high as 6 spots for some positions.

With the current method, salaries are recommended based on years in rank, discipline and average peer class salaries determined using CUPA-HR salary data.

Lessons Learned
So what lessons were learned from Montevallo’s experience? Consider the importance of sharing a new plan in a way that’s easy for everyone to not only see but also to understand; maintaining a continuous dialogue with all stakeholders at set intervals and as needed to communicate changes, delays and other unforeseen issues; and involving key faculty in the planning and implementation process.

If you’re looking to rework your institution’s approach to faculty and staff salaries, HR can lead the way by:

  • Building relationships with key administrators to help advocate for employees;
  • Educating administrators about the challenges of competing for talent, and your institution’s position in the market; and
  • Maintaining current salary and compensation data and letting that data tell the story of what’s happening on your campus and in your market.