Category Archives: Study in the US

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.

Governance issues are holding the country back

Ranjit Goswami 06 March 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 357

A recent controversy over the renewal of Professor Amartya Sen’s period at the helm of Nalanda University shows that India needs to address governance issues that are preventing progress in higher education. A lot has been said about quality, or rather the lack of it, in India’s education system. With nearly 25 million births a year, and more than a million people entering the workforce every month, the country’s future social stability, from the sustainability of its economic growth to its global economic competitiveness, is largely dependent on a single factor – the education and skills the nation’s youth possess.

Acknowledging the huge challenge – in terms of the number of schools, colleges and universities in a country with less than US$2,000 per capita income in nominal terms – surely we must say that a lot has been achieved over the last two decades.

Capacity building, at each local school and at colleges and universities, takes a huge amount of time, as do building the quality or reputation of each of the many institutions.

But what has been missing is the progressive and supportive governance necessary at the highest level, even though capacity building at that level is less difficult than in each institution.

Two critical aspects are at fault: One is the role of the regulators; the second is the interface between local governance of each institution with that of its promoter. For public institutions, the promoter is invariably either the state or the central government, because they are ultimately funded by taxpayers’ money; whereas for private institutions, the promoter is the non-profit private entity.

The role of the regulators is said to be directly responsible for various deficiencies in education but much less is said about the deficits in the second critical aspect of governance.

Nalanda University

The recent controversy about Nalanda University exposes just the tip of the iceberg of this issue and its impact on India’s higher education system. In only 10 years since it was conceived and five years since it opened, Nalanda has found itself in an unnecessary quagmire.

The early signs do not bode well when set against Nalanda’s centuries-old gloried past, which the new-founded university wants to replicate.

It was a large Buddhist monastery founded in the fifth century and attained widespread regional recognition from the sixth to the ninth centuries as a learning centre in diverse areas such as the fine arts, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, politics and even the art of war – going beyond its core of Buddhist studies. Its eventual decline lasted until the 13th century when it closed.

The present controversy started when the university’s famous chancellor, Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen, said he would not seek a second term in spite of a prior willingness and board approval.

The reason, as Sen stated in various TV interviews and reported in news articles, was the delay in the Nalanda University Visitor’s (President of India) approval of a unanimous board recommendation to offer a second term to Sen. According to Sen, the President should have respected the board’s decision in a timely manner or have indicated otherwise.

Apparently there was no response for more than a month. Nalanda, unlike most other Indian universities, was created by a unique Nalanda University Act of 2010. In India, a delay or unresponsive communication of one month from the government, which Sen was referring to, is seldom considered to be a delay by other Indian institutes which regularly face similar timescales.

Even the Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, which were created by an IIT Act of 1961, routinely face longer delays dealing with more critical decisions and have remained without a permanent head for months or even years as a result.

Given this context, one might wonder why Sen jumped to his conclusion prematurely. As Sen stated, had there been prior shortcomings in the formation or functioning of the board (as some reports suggested), these should have been dealt with then and there in an appropriate and transparent manner.


Sen has worked extensively in the field of higher education in India, the UK and in the US with public and private institutes of repute. In the absence of clear communications from the promoter of Nalanda University – the government – he deserves understanding rather than criticism.

Regular day-to-day decisions need to be made, more so for a new university like Nalanda which is launching new academic programmes; and the decision-making process should be nurtured over the years.

India has rarely witnessed any head of an institute publicly speaking out against such business-as-usual delays. As there are, and should be, performance matrices for heads and faculty members of an institute, there should also be performance matrices on the promoters’ side.

Unfortunately, promoters of institutes in India, whether public or private, mostly believe that providing financial support alone gives them carte blanche to act with impunity and no accountability.

Private entities in education still operate in a disorganised manner, in spite of the sector’s huge growth, because there are so many of them. Most of these private players lack expertise in governance interface.

The controversy at Nalanda University should be a learning point and be acted upon. Building world-class universities takes time, resources and a supportive ecosystem and accountability should not be a difficult problem.

Controversies of this nature also exacerbate other ongoing challenges – ranging from attracting back the diaspora of Indian-origin academics from overseas and luring foreign academics to take up assignments in India, to making India an attractive destination for international students, which lies at the foundation of Nalanda University.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has often talked about the need for speed, transparency and accountability, and a ‘more governance, less government’ spirit.

Acknowledging that the government does not have the capacity to micro-manage and that a delayed response does not serve the needs of speed or transparency and is no substitute for making hard decisions when necessary, Nalanda’s struggle could act as a catalyst to transform academic governance in India – if only we actually want to learn from it.

Professor Ranjit Goswami is dean (academics) at the Institute of Management Technology, or IMT, Nagpur, in India.

University World News

Still at a Disadvantage

By Jake New, March 6

Throwing another wrench into the belief that higher education is the great equalizer, a new paper suggests that African-American graduates from elite institutions do only as well in getting jobs as white candidates from less-selective institutions.

The study, published in the journal Social Forces, shows that while a degree from an elite university improves all applicants’ chances at finding a well-paid job, the ease with which those jobs are obtained is not equal for black and white students even when they both graduate from an institution such as Harvard University. A white candidate with a degree from a highly selective university, the paper suggests, receives an employer response for every six résumés he or she submits. A black candidate receives a response for every eight.

White candidates with degrees from less-selective universities can expect to get a response every 9 résumés, while equally qualified black candidates need to submit 15.

“Most people would expect that if you could overcome social disadvantages and make it to Harvard against all odds, you’d be pretty set no matter what, but this experiment finds that there are still gaps,” said S. Michael Gaddis, the author of the paper and the Robert Wood Foundation Scholar in Health Policy at the University of Michigan. “Once you get out, you still have to deal with other human beings who have preconceived notions and misguided stereotypes about why you were able to go to this college.”

The paper is based on the results of an experiment Gaddis conducted in which he created more than 1,000 fake job applicants and applied to jobs online. The fictional candidates graduated from either highly selective institutions (Harvard University, Stanford University and Duke University) or less selective state universities (the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of California at Riverside and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro). They all had similarly high grade point averages.

Gaddis gave the candidates names that were likely to signal to potential employers what their races were -- black male applicants were named Jalen, Lamar and DaQuan; black female applicants were named Nia, Ebony and Shanice; white male applicants were named Caleb, Charlie and Ronny; and white female applicants were named Aubrey, Erica and Lesly.

White job applicants with a degree from an elite university had the highest response rate at 18 percent. Black candidates with a degree from an elite university had a response rate of 13 percent, with white candidates holding a degree from a less-selective university following closely at nearly 12 percent. Black applicants with a degree from a less-selective institution had a response rate of less than 7 percent.

Black graduates at elite colleges not only had a response rate similar to that of white graduates from less-selective institutions, but the employers who responded to black applicants were often offering jobs with less prestige and with salaries that trailed those of white candidates by an average of $3,000. “Education apparently has its limits, because even a Harvard degree cannot make DaQuan as enticing as Charlie to employers,” Gaddis wrote.

While the experiment could not measure the odds of applicants landing a job after getting an initial response, Gaddis said, gaps this large at just the first step of the process demonstrate that “a bachelor's degree, even one from an elite institution, cannot fully counteract the importance of race in the labor market.” How welcoming a company is to diverse applicants once they meet and interview them means little if they can’t even get in the front door.

“It’s quite possible that these differences are not suggesting that employers are going about trying not to hire black applicants, but there is something going on this lower level,” Gaddis said. “I hope that maybe this research will make people stop and think about what processes we are using when hiring.”

Killing All State Support

By Scott Jaschik, March 6

Arizona has a reputation for frugality with regard to state support for higher education, but a deal reached this week between Governor Doug Ducey and legislative leaders is leaving educators in the state stunned. The agreement would completely eliminate state support for the three largest community college districts in the state -- while also imposing deep cuts on the public universities.

Ducey, a Republican, reached the deal with the Republican-controlled Legislature. Ducey had already proposed significant cuts for higher education. For example, he had proposed cutting about $10 million from the three community college districts. But the final deal would cut an additional $9 million, to eliminate all state funds. Small community college districts would continue to receive money, but the large districts that would now have no state funds include the mammoth Maricopa and Pima districts.

While the plan has not received formal legislative approval, those opposing the budget deal face a difficult challenge in that legislative leaders and the governor have united behind it.

The theory (long since abandoned in practice in many states) of community college funding has been that a third of operating funds come from the state, a third from local governments and a third from students in the form of tuition.

With state support for public higher education dwindling generally, experts on community colleges have for several years been lamenting the reality of states (including Arizona) where the share of state support for community colleges is in the single digits. But until now they haven't been talking about zero state support.

The specific plan in Arizona would disqualify community colleges for state funds if they are in counties with more than 350,000 residents. That covers the large counties that are home to the Pima and Maricopa districts, and also covers Central Arizona College, where President Doris Helmich toldThe Casa Grande Dispatch that the idea that her college could lose all state funds was "shocking, absolutely shocking."

Lee D. Lambert, chancellor of Pima Community College, issued this statement: “We know that the state is in a difficult financial position, but we are extremely disappointed that the governor's proposed budget seeks to compensate for a state revenue shortfall by withdrawing all support for the Pima and Maricopa community college systems, as well as reducing funding to other institutions of higher learning within Arizona. These proposed cuts to our funding will do irreparable damage to PCC in the near term, especially at a time when operational costs are rising, and the overall impact of such a precipitous reduction is impossible to calculate. We are working hard to anticipate and mitigate the damage as the budget process unfolds.”

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Governor Ducey, defended the cuts, telling The Arizona Republic that the budget plan "protects taxpayers."

Added Scarpinato: "We can't spend money we don't have, and the governor is committed to protecting taxpayers by balancing the budget. This is a values-based budget that puts the state on a stable fiscal path."

Public higher education leaders -- at community colleges and universities alike -- have long ceased to rely on the state for covering much operating support. But the move to zero it out for community colleges has left many stunned. Arizona is a fast-growing state, so community colleges and universities all face pressure to educate more students.

While universities were not zeroed out in the budget deal, they also saw what was already a planned cut turn into a larger one. The governor originally wanted to cut their budgets by $75 million, but the new deal would cut state appropriation by $104 million, or 14 percent of their state support.

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, sent alumni an e-mail Thursday in which he said the new plan makes education a "low priority in Arizona," The Arizona Republic noted. The newspaper said that the e-mail marked a "change in tone" for Crow, who has been "largely measured" in speaking about the governor's budget plans.

An editorial in The State Press, the student newspaper at Arizona State, denounced the cuts. Arizona State will take a disproportionate cut under the plan because the reductions are based on enrollment, and the editorial said this means that the university will "essentially be decapitated." The editorial also noted that the elimination of state funds to community colleges will affect the universities because so many students start their higher education at two-year institutions and then go on to transfer.

The editorial said the antispending views of Republicans need to be challenged. "After campaigning on a promise to run the state like a business, Ducey has failed to enact one of the basic concepts of economics: making wise investments to ensure a stable and profitable future. Ducey and Arizona Republicans have made an all but official declaration that the education of future generations is less important than the feelings of millionaires on tax day."

Climate crusader’s profitable link to Harvard exposed

Climate crusader’s profitable link to Harvard exposed

Paul Basken, The Chronicle of Higher Education ,27 February 2015 University World News Global Edition Issue 356

Years of using a Harvard nameplate to flog his insistence that polar bears are doing fine, and that sunspots might explain planetary warming better than the Industrial Revolution does, may finally have caught up with Wei-Hock Soon. Years of using a Harvard nameplate to flog his insistence that polar bears are doing fine, and that sunspots might explain planetary warming better than the Industrial Revolution does, may finally have caught up with Wei-Hock Soon.

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.

Soon, an astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, endured a barrage of news reports last week detailing his acceptance of US$1.2 million in support from energy companies and others hostile to government limits on fossil-fuel use.

In response, the Smithsonian Institution announced plans to investigate whether he had properly acknowledged his political alliances.

"We’re very concerned to get to the bottom of this, and make sure we have all the facts," W John Kress, the Smithsonian’s interim under secretary for science, said in an interview on Tuesday.

The investigation threatens serious repercussions for Soon, commonly known as Willie. But it may raise an equally tough question for Harvard University, the Smithsonian, and arrangements for their shared astrophysics observatory: How did the scientist trade on Harvard’s name to gain a leading role in climate politics?

In a series of scientific journal articles over the past decade, Soon has routinely listed himself as representing "the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics".

In turn, various reports describing his activities and beliefs – often published by organisations dedicated to opposing government regulations – have short-handed his identification to "Harvard scientist". Even The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student-run newspaper, has referred to him that way.

The problem, according to Charles R Alcock, a Harvard professor of astronomy who also serves as director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, is that the "centre" refers primarily to a shared set of physical facilities. Almost everyone working at those facilities, Alcock said, is either an employee of Harvard or an employee of the Smithsonian, a federally administered collection of museums and research centres.

"From a legal point of view," he said, "there is no such entity as the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics." And Soon is employed only by the Smithsonian, Alcock said. "It’s always been that way. He has never had any Harvard appointment."

But confusion over Soon’s relationship with Harvard, even if it bolstered his profitable political alliances, may not be entirely or even primarily his responsibility.

One example is his email address:

Kress said that such shared identifications reflect the level of scientific partnership felt by Harvard and Smithsonian scientists, whose observatories merged facilities in 1972 (now four locations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and observatory facilities in Arizona and Hawaii).

He also acknowledged that the blurring might bring "more prestige" to his side of the alliance, in which 200 Harvard scientists are vastly outnumbered by about 700 Smithsonian counterparts. Either way, he said, the email domain is among the matters that the Smithsonian may now re-evaluate as a result of the disclosures about Soon.

Corporate benefactors

The institutions seem less open, however, to reconsidering the financial arrangements exposed by Soon’s activities. Last week’s revelations were based on records of internal Smithsonian email discussions provided under an open-records request to Greenpeace, the environmental-advocacy group, which supports restrictions on fossil-fuel use.

The records showed that Soon and the Smithsonian had received money from groups that included the energy conglomerate Southern Company, the Charles G Koch Foundation, and Donors Trust, a fund for anonymous contributions identified by a 2013 Drexel University study as the largest single provider of money to political efforts to fight climate change policy.

Alcock confirmed through a spokesperson that the donors disclosed by Greenpeace had provided Soon and the Smithsonian with a total of US$1.2 million over a period of 10 years. He also confirmed that, under standard observatory procedures, less than half of that amount was passed through to Soon as salary. Most was kept by the Smithsonian to cover facility operating costs.

Most Smithsonian researchers receive their compensation through such "soft money" payments rather than a salary from the institution, Kress said. But unlike Soon, most of those at the observatory draw funding heavily from government sources, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation, which in turn rely on peer-reviewed award processes.

In a typical year, the Smithsonian observatory receives about US$95 million in grant support, said Alcock’s spokesperson, Christine Pulliam. "Only a small fraction of 1 percent of that figure comes from corporate sources," she said.

At the same time, the Smithsonian has no policy requiring its researchers to disclose potential financial conflicts of interest in any scientific journal articles they produce.

Instead, its promised investigation of Soon will focus on whether he violated financial-disclosure requirements of the journals themselves. At least one of them, a Chinese journal called Science Bulletin, has promised its own review of the matter.

Before the issue of financial disclosure arose, the scientific quality of Soon’s published work had long attracted complaints from experts in the field. Gavin A Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has repeatedly accused Soon of vastly overstating the effect that variations in solar output might have on the earth’s warming climate.

Kress even admitted a lack of confidence in his own employee’s work. "Up until now, it has not been an issue of our scientists' not disclosing their sources of funding," he said.

"As far as we can see, up until just recently, that appeared to be the case with Willie Soon. He was publishing science. He may have interpreted his results in various ways, but the actual data and the results reflected his research, which, although I would say is not the highest-quality research, was research carried out in a scientific process."

Soon did not respond to requests for comment.

A Harvard University spokesperson, Jeff A Neal, provided a written statement saying the institution "takes the appropriate use, and the inappropriate misuse, of the university name very seriously. When made aware of a potential issue related to the misuse of the Harvard name, we communicate our expectations to the relevant individuals or organisations".

Asked if that applied to Soon or the Smithsonian, Neal said he would not discuss specific cases.

The roles played by both Harvard and the Smithsonian in burnishing Soon’s credentials and scientific authority are key to Soon’s saga, said Andrew J Hoffman, a professor of sustainable enterprise at the University of Michigan. Hoffman is making plans to host a conference in May at his Ann Arbor campus on the risks and benefits for academic scientists participating in public-policy debates.

"Why is anyone even listening to him?" Hoffman said of Soon. "Because he’s got ‘Harvard’ after his name. Once you take that away, who is Willie Soon? He’s nobody."

Paul Basken covers university research and its intersection with government policy. He can be found on Twitter @pbasken, or reached by email at

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