Monday, February 22, 2010

Senior Administration Salaries Flat...Doesn't Tell the Entire Story

by Daniel L. Bennett

Inside Higher Ed reports this morning that senior administrative salaries remain relatively unchanged from last year. The data comes from CUPA-HR's annual survey. While this may at first seem like a positive development (and indeed it is better than previous year's reports of continual increases well above the rate of inflation), it should be taken with caution. First, a zero percent salary increase is still higher than the rate of inflation, which was slightly negative over the past year.

Next, the salary figures do not account for other forms of compensation such as health insurance and retirement contributions. If these costs were up, which I suspect that at least health insurance was, then total compensation may have actually risen and possibly by a substantial amount.

The figures also do not tell us anything about employment levels. While unemployment in the general economy has risen to double digits, did the level of college and university staff fall, remain constant, or even rise? If the employment levels did anything other than fall, then the salary freezes will have had little effect on total costs. Also, these salary figures only include senior officials. There is an entire bureaucracy of junior level employees whose compensation and employment levels need to be evaluated to determine how colleges dealt with employment this past year. Unfortunately, there is a time lag in this data being reported, so we will not know the effect of the recession on employment levels for some time.

Lastly, the report does not provide salary information by institution, only a median of all participating ones. I suspect that some schools handled the recession more responsibly than others. By this I mean that the median increase was zero because some administrations likely took pay cuts while others may have treated the past year like any other and continued with the lavish pay increases that have become commonplace in higher ed.

While I certainly welcome the news that salaries did not rise during what has been a severe recession, I caution that we need to evaluate the rest of the evidence before we go off and pat these folks on the back for a job well done. This is what I've done in a working paper with previous year's data.

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