- The median salary increase for all higher ed professionals was less than half of the inflation rate in 2021-2022, according to workforce survey data released Wednesday by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, CUPA-HR.
- Administrators saw the greatest average salary increase, at 3.4%. The salaries of professional staff rose 2.9%, while tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty got average increases of 1.6% and 1.5%, respectively. The consumer price index for 2021 was 6.8%, the largest increase in decades.
- The size of full-time and part-time staff as well as tenure-track faculty declined. CUPA-HR said colleges are feeling the same nationwide hiring and retention challenges as other employers.
The failure of higher ed pay increases to keep pace with inflation continues a trend that's developed in the sector in recent years. The 2019-2020 academic year marked the last time pay increases for administrators, professionals and staff met or exceeded inflation. Nontenure-track faculty fared worse, last getting salary increases matching or exceeding inflation in 2016-17. The salaries of tenure-track faculty have not kept pace with inflation in the past six years.
As higher ed professionals are effectively losing spending power, the workforce is also shrinking.
The number of higher education workers has historically increased from year to year, according to CUPA-HR. But in 2021-2022 the overall workforce saw a decline in numbers.
The two exceptions were adjuncts and nontenure-track faculty. Adjunct ranks grew 2.7%. Nontenure-track faculty grew 2.6%. Both groups saw a significant drop in size in 2020-2021, largely owing to the pandemic, but are now moving back up.
By comparison, the number of tenure-track faculty dropped 0.2% this year and full-time staff dropped 1.1%.
Colleges have been leaning more heavily on nontenured employees in recent decades, drawing criticism from groups like the American Federation of Teachers that say they're leaving employees underpaid and without job security. Adjunct and nontenure-track faculty are considered cheaper and more flexible sources of labor for budget-conscious colleges than tenured professors. But their increased use has also sparked concerns about research and academic freedom.
Some of the sector's challenges are caused by employees leaving colleges. One study found that early and mid-career student affairs professionals are leaving higher ed amid compensation and work environment concerns.
Wall Street has also taken note of labor challenges for colleges. Moody's Investors Service this month flagged wage inflation and labor shortages as two factors driving financial challenges for the higher ed sector, which it said faces its highest expense growth in over a decade.
The sector's difficulties in hiring and retaining employees also mirror the larger national labor shortage. More than 47 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in 2021, according to CNBC. The movement, dubbed the Great Resignation, is powered by people seeking improved work-life balance, increased compensation and more workplace flexibility.