Category Archives: Applying to US Universities

Some college leaders are responding quickly to racist and sexist incidents

Nearly half of four-year college graduates attended two-year college

Personalized domain names bring headaches for institutions, Ph.D. holders

Keep Students, Earn More

March 19, 2015

Salary compression is a familiar dilemma to faculty members and administrators. Most campuses conduct regular analyses to measure salary discrepancies across academic departments, across generations of faculty members and between their own professors and those at other institutions.

Few colleges, though, have found a sustainable solution to relieve compressed salaries, especially in a period of budget cuts, shrinking state investment and rising tuition.

Administrators at Coastal Carolina University, a 10,000-student public university in South Carolina, think they have done so through what they call profit sharing. If the university is successful -- in this case, at increasing student retention -- then faculty members are rewarded with a pool of money that is divvied up to help alleviate compression.

On "This Week," Pay and Retention
We'll discuss the Coastal Carolina system on "This Week @ Inside Higher Ed," our weekly news podcast. Click here to receive an e-mail alert when the podcast is published.

In the first two years of the program, the university has paid almost $2.5 million to qualifying employees, after consecutive increases to the retention rate. Equal amounts of money are set aside for both faculty members and staff who go through performance reviews.

This year, there is $400,000 on the line each for faculty and staff salary decompression and $150,000 for merit bonuses. To spend the money, the university’s annual retention rate has to increase from 67 to 68 percent.

If the retention rate hits 69 percent, then the money increases to $500,000 for decompression and $200,000 for merit pay.

“The bottom line in all this is that if the university does well, it’s the administration’s and the board’s belief that we need to share with those who play a role in making the institution successful,” President David DeCenzo said.

The program was designed by faculty members, who had been tracking salary compression each year.

In general, compression happens when faculty members’ pay is limited by year-to-year increases that don’t keep up with market rates. Salary inversion happens when new hires make more than senior-level employees because they’re negotiating at market rates.

Coastal Carolina faculty realized that if they wanted the university to pay for a decompression effort, they’d need to find revenue that wasn’t already budgeted for something else, said an associate statistics professor, Keshav Jagannathan. Jagannathan, as Faculty Senate chair, helped devise the program a few years ago with an associate math professor, Thomas Hoffman, who led Senate efforts on faculty welfare and development at the time.

They figured that if the retention rate went up, so would revenue from tuition money, part of which could be redirected to faculty salaries. “We’re not looking for that money in lean years when the university is struggling,” Jagannathan said. “We’re just looking for something in terms of meeting our goals.”

In the years leading up to the program's development, about 50 percent of faculty members had compressed salaries, and fixing those inequities would have cost, in total, between $1 million and $2 million, Hoffman said. Those figures come from a model based on comparing Coastal Carolina salaries to corresponding positions in a national sample of universities.

In the two years since, the program has been successful at decreasing the amount of compression at the university, though it’s hard to quantify by how much, since different positions are compressed at different levels. Plus, compression will grow each year if full cost-of-living adjustments or raises aren't in step with the national average.

Brian Bunton, for example, was hired in 2007, right before the economic downturn. He didn’t get even a cost-of-living adjustment for the first five years he worked there. During the first year of the compression relief program, his salary was increased 10 percent. Bunton is president of the university's chapter of the American Association of University Professors, and he said most faculty members support the program.

The money is given to faculty members who meet the qualifications for being competitive and meritorious in performance reviews. But the program was designed to reach as many faculty members as possible. If there’s only enough money to relieve 80 percent of the institution’s compression, then all qualifying faculty members will get that portion of the amount their salary is compressed.

Student retention has benefited, as well. Projections show the university hitting a retention rate of 74 percent in the next three years, though administrators would like to surpass that.

Retention is obviously an important factor in student success and graduation rates, but it also affects the university’s cash flow. Prior to the Great Recession, Coastal Carolina’s retention rate hovered in the mid-60's. Then it dropped to 59 percent in 2009.

In efforts to improve the rate, the university has put money into student resources, by beefing up advising capabilities, encouraging faculty to take on more mentoring roles and improving tutoring services and other academic resources.

DeCenzo said this program is a way to get the faculty to buy in to the university's retention goal. Hoffman said that, anecdotally, it does seem that professors are participating in more activities and practices aimed at retention, such as taking attendance in all freshman courses and calculating grades in the middle of the term to identify struggling students.

Nationally, the average retention for first-time, full-time students at public four-year colleges was 79 percent in 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Faculty interaction with students outside of the class settings is important for student success, and so anything colleges can do to encourage faculty to increase involvement with students is good for retention, said Alan Seidman, director of the Center for the Study of College Student Retention.

But Seidman worried about the possibility of grade inflation if faculty stand to benefit financially from improved student retention rates. He recommended collecting data to see if there's a difference in grade distribution before and after the program.

Administrators also stress that the faculty salary adjustments haven’t come on the backs of tuition increases. While tuition increased about 3 percent last year, it was flat for in-state students during the 2012-13 and 2013-14 years. Administrators are anticipating a modest increase next year.

The agreement for the compression program was for a three-year period, and administrators said after this year, they plan to turn it back to the faculty to see how faculty members want to move forward. Part of the program’s success has no doubt been because it rose out of faculty suggestions, they said.

“It’s also important to present it to your board of trustees in a way that demonstrates that it’s good for the overall university,” DeCenzo said.

Hoffman, one of the math professors who helped created the program, said the compression model needs to continue to be run annually, but he's more flexible on other details of the program. Right now, the money is tied to retention, because that's what the university is focusing on, but that could change in the future.

Coastal Carolina isn’t the only university where the intersection of student retention and faculty pay has served professors well. Siena College in New York announced this week it will not pursue cuts to faculty pension contributions in light of an especially strong fall-to-spring retention this year.

Siena College, with about 3,000 students, has a consistently high retention rate, usually above 95 percent. This year, though, the college retained an additional 44 students it hadn't budgeted for, said Brother Ed Coughlin, president of the college.

The college had been anticipating a $900,000 budget deficit. Now, with additional tuition and room and board money from those 44 students, the deficit is projected at about $200,000. As a result, the university's won't carry through with a plan to reduce by 3 percent contributions to faculty retirement plans, which would have saved about $500,000.

Coughlin attributed the college's high retention rate to an early-warning retention team that monitors students' academic performance, flexible access to advisers and a first-year seminar that fosters relationships between faculty and students. The college also has started a training program for resident assistants so they can recognize signs that students may be at risk of leaving and refer them to the proper resources.

The lonely shame of student debt

Ryan Anderson, The Chronicle of Higher Education
06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

The young woman student working for the debt-collecting agency did not know that student loans contain few to no consumer protections. Say what you will about the credit-card industry – at least consumers who get into trouble still have basic legal protections. When it comes to student loans, especially private loans, that’s not the case. The phone rings. I answer. Credit-card collector – again. A pleasant voice on the other end of the line: “Can you please verify the last four digits of your Social Security number?” I verify.

This is an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, America’s leading higher education publication. It is presented here under an agreement with University World News.

The voice then asks me if I consent to letting them use my phone number to contact me about my credit-card debt. I say no, I do not consent.

“Well, how would you like us to contact you to give you updates about your account?” You can send the updates in the mail, I tell the voice. “Very well, please hold on while I transfer you.” I hold.

Another pleasant voice comes on the line: “We’re calling about the status of your account. According to our records, you have not made the current minimum payment. We would be glad to process an electronic check for US$92.55 to bring your account current.” No, I say, I can’t do that.

“Well, is there a reason why you can’t make your payment at this time?” the new voice asks.

My answer jumps out of me: “I can’t make the payment because I am deep in student-loan debt, trying to finish graduate school, looking for work, there is no work, the higher education market is completely devastated, I’m raising a kid, and I happened to go to graduate school right in the middle of a global economic implosion. Sorry.”


Then the voice says: “I’m in graduate school, too.” She’s just working this job because she has three kids and she’s trying to make ends meet, she explains. She tells me she’s going to finish in a year, and she’s looking into PhD programmes. We end up having a 10-minute conversation about graduate school and debt. Surreal.

I offer one piece of advice: Don’t pay a dime for a PhD. I end by warning her about student loans because they have been stripped of almost every meaningful consumer protection, including the ability to discharge them in bankruptcy. She tells me she had no idea and thanks me for the advice.

Yes, that really happened. What a strange, ironic and revealing conversation. Ironic because the young woman – who works in the debt-collection industry – did not know that student loans contain few to no consumer protections.

Say what you will about the credit-card industry – at least consumers who get into trouble still have basic legal protections. When it comes to student loans (especially private loans), that’s not the case. Far too many people sign up for student loans without knowing how badly the balance of power is tipped in favour of lenders and collection companies.

But the conversation revealed something else as well. The student-debt problem is happening to people across a broad social spectrum, and we don’t always know about others who might be in the same predicament. Many of us assume that we are alone.

Talking about student debt is taboo. Many of us feel shame and embarrassment, and we keep quiet to avoid being seen as complainers or losers. We keep our heads down.

The result is that there are legions of people in the same situation who don’t know that so many others share similar concerns and face similar hardships. This lack of mutually shared knowledge – of a community – helps perpetuate student debt, especially as new generations sign up for student loans without access to the knowledge or experience of those who came before them.

My debt collector and I have a lot in common. But a dehumanised student financial aid bureaucracy, combined with shame and lack of shared knowledge, means we don’t know about that common ground.

What we don’t know about the realities of our own student debt is killing us, and what we don’t know about the debt of those around us is killing us as well. As the folks from Strike Debt so aptly put it: “You are not a loan.”

The possibilities for meaningful change rest on this powerful bit of shared knowledge: We are not alone.

Ryan Anderson recently received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Kentucky and is a lecturer at San Diego State University, USA.

University World News