Pay rose 2.4% last year for nonexempt college staff, but crisis threatens jobs

Dive Brief:

  • Pay for nonexempt staff rose a median 2.4% last year, marking the biggest annual increase since the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources began collecting the data in 2013. That’s compared to 1.9% the year before.
  • The authors point out that nonexempt staff is the most at risk of losing hours or their jobs entirely because of the coronavirus crisis. The survey covers more than 209,000 staff across some 800 public and private institutions nationwide.
  • As colleges weigh cuts to staffing and may delay reopening campus in light of the pandemic, the report’s authors consider their data as a baseline for future staffing decisions.

Dive Insight:

The positions covered in the report include office and clerical staff, maintenance crews, technical support and skilled craft workers, such as electricians and carpenters. 

People of color and women make up a much greater share of this group than they do professional and administrative positions in higher education, the authors note. Further, they are disproportionately affected by the economic crisis — and, in the case of the black community, the coronavirus itself.

“As higher ed institutional leaders make plans for workforce changes, it is important they keep their diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts front of mind,” the authors write.

Protecting nonexempt staff has emerged in other discussions of how colleges should approach reopening campus this fall. As officials consider how to appropriately house and teach students on campus to mitigate the spread of the virus, they should also think about how employees in areas such as custodial, maintenance and dining are protected, higher ed experts said in a panel discussion facilitated by The New York Times.

One step colleges can take is to talk with the related unions, Richard Levin, an economist and former president of Yale University, told The Times. Levin co-wrote a report for Connecticut’s governor about reopening colleges in the state. It explains that while the risk of contagion is high among students, the risk of serious illness is higher for older faculty and student-facing staff. That includes dining hall workers, as well as counselors and other student services staff.

Nonexempt workers who can’t do their jobs from home may be eager to get back to work, Carlos Aramayo, Boston chapter president of food service union Unite Here, told The Times. A need for income security and continued access to healthcare coverage are driving factors, he said, adding that workers are concerned about having to take public transit and that their institution won’t sufficiently protect them from the virus.

Many colleges are still deciding whether and how they will reopen their campuses this fall. So far, two-thirds of more than 860 colleges tracked are planning for in-person instruction, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education

Several factors could influence their decisions: a likely second wave of the virus, the risk of losing students who don’t want to continue their education online, and the costs and uncertainty associated with accessing and administering coronavirus testing.

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