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Running the Numbers: Compensation in the 2011 “Great Colleges to Work For”


In Section B of its July 29, 2011, issue, The Chronicle of Higher Education provides the results of its 2011 “Great Colleges to Work For” survey.  Jointly sponsored by The Chronicle and ModernThink LLC, this is the fourth such effort and is apparently inspired by and loosely based upon the Great Place to Work Institute’s well known Fortune magazine “100 Best Companies to Work For” list.

To compile the 2011 Great Colleges data, The Chronicle and ModernThink polled 111,000 people (and about 44,000 responded) at 310 colleges and universities, of which 245 (79%) are 4-year institutions.  Twelve “recognition categories” were selected for comparison.  One of these, “Compensation and Benefits,” is defined as “Pay is fair, and benefits meet the needs of employees.”  We took a look behind the numbers for the comp and benefits category for the 4-year colleges to see what they show.

First, The Chronicle divides institutions on the basis of the total number of students:

  • Small (2,999 or fewer) [24 institutions]
  • Medium (3,000 to 9,999) [31 institutions]
  • Large (10,000 or more) [30 institutions]

Then it discloses “average annual salary” for:

  • Administrators
  • Full-time exempt staff
  • Exempt professional staff

And depending upon their success at satisfying the requirements of each recognition category, the paper awards an “Honor Roll” mention for 10 schools in each size classification.

How do the numbers for the 85 colleges and universities shake out?  In other words, how great is the compensation in the Great Colleges?

Small Colleges and Universities: Average Annual Salaries

Medium Colleges and Universities: Average Annual Salaries

Large Colleges and Universities: Average Annual Salaries  

Here, the disclosed compensation is not overly rich.  Notably, there is not a dramatic variation in compensation from small to large school within the three professional fields (the largest being the 48% difference in faculty maximums from small to large).  This may imply a level paying field in academe absent within, say, the financial services industry.  However, it would be risky to use the figures provided by The Chronicle for aspirational purposes.  The data here reflects a mere 85 schools among thousands of American institutions.  And the information provided to support the results is incomplete: no value is provided for the cost of benefits, and compensation is rendered solely in terms of salary.  Total compensation in the field of higher education can include amounts for bonuses, deferred compensation, and other sums.  Given the incompleteness of the data, it may be that the best The Chronicle can conclude, in the 30 instances where the compensation and benefits recognition category has been met among 85 schools, is that “Pay is fair, and benefits meet the needs of employees.”

The compensation and benefits results (only) for the 2011 Great Colleges to Work For may be useful as far as they go.  We just don’t know how far that is.

Paul Creasy