Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Unionized faculty earn 25% more--at some places

A story in the Chronicle flags a new study showing that professors at regional public universities earn roughly 25% more than their non-unionized peers.

The study makes a fundamental point familiar to those of us who work at such universities--we are routinely ignored in press coverage and statistics, or at best are lumped together with flagship public universities. In addition to distinguishing regional universities from flagships and studying the impact of collective bargaining, the study looked to geography (urban, suburban, rural) and size to study possible correlations with compensation. The study also included fringe benefits with salaries to provide a fuller picture of faculty compensation.

Lots of local questions: Are we a regional university? By their definition, yes. But in other respects, not so much. Do we make 25% more than non-unionized peers? No. Why don't we make a lot more? Perhaps because we're rural.

So things get complicated and fuzzy pretty quickly, but there's lots to be learned from this study. Details after the break.

Are we a "regional university"? Yes and no.

A major point of the study is that peer groups based largely on the highest degree awarded fail to capture the mission of 'regional universities', a group they take to coincide with the universities that belong to the AASCU (American Association of State Colleges and Universities). We  belong to that association, together with Illinois peers CSU, EIU, GSU, ISU, NEIU, SIUE, UI Springfield  and WIU. That would leave out UIUC, UIC and, curiously, NIU. The study's authors characterize the AASCU institutions as being "stewards of place", which I take to mean that they are committed to serving their regions. They say that average faculty loads are 4/4, and note that while many AASCU institutions offer doctoral degrees, most are in the lowest rung of Carnegie doctoral institutions.

Obviously SIUC doesn't fit this profile terribly well. We are not in the lowest Carnegie PhD rung (we are in the second highest, "high research productivity" if not in the tip-top "very high" category). Our teaching loads don't average 4/4 (at least in the colleges I'm familiar with). So while the study is right to note that "regional university" is a category that has been neglected in other studies, it is just as problematic a category as any other.

SIUC may be particularly hard to pin down: Note the various sets of peers identified on our current IRS website.

So how much does unionization help  "rural-large" regionals?

The study would classify us as a "rural-large" research university. Here's the data they came up with, based on 2010-2011 figures. These figures are the latest available because the federal government stopped collecting figures for fringe benefits after that year. Note that these figures include fringe benefits.
  • Rural-large  average compensation: $94,233 (of which $69,074 was salary)
  • Rural-large with collective bargaining: $96,435
  • Rural-large without collective bargaining:$91,548
  • Difference: 5%.
So the total difference in compensation is 5%. Not that much--and certainly not the 25% from the Chronicle headline, which reflects far greater differences in other categories of university. But over a thirty year career it does add up to a difference of $146,610 for the average faculty member. For some reason--the study does not speculate--faculty at suburban and urban campuses benefit much more from being in a collective bargaining state.

Do our salaries fit this trend?

I studied this back in a post I did years ago, but luckily the figures for the new study are similarly dated. My post was based on an IBHE study of compensation through FY 2010. I think that would be salaries for the year prior to the 2010-2011 figures used in the new study we've been discussing. At that point our average compensation for all ranks was $89,100 ($71,000 in salary). According to the IBHE, that put us 6.4% behind our peers as defined by the AAUP (note: not the same set of peers as that in the new study).

The difference from FY 2010 and 2010-2011, together with possible differences in how fringe benefits were classified, makes it impossible to judge precisely how our compensation stacks up with that of our AASCU peers. It looks like we are a bit behind--perhaps on the order of 5%. But we are clearly in the same compensation universe: whatever our pretensions to research university status, we're paid like regional university faculty (though we don't have the 4/4 load--yet). 

Bottom line?

Unionization helps, but more in some contexts than others. Being rural doesn't help. Total compensation at rural campuses averaged $88,931; that at suburban campuses averaged $101,253, and that at urban campuses $101,309. The study does not address an obvious explanation for this discrepancy, cost of living, but in the Chronicle article the study's lead author says that the difference made by unionization is far too great to be explained by differences in cost of living. Presumably cost of living is a large part of the difference between rural and suburban/urban compensation, however.

Worries about the fine print

The story makes one pretty large simplifying assumption: it defines unionization by whether or not a state allows for collective bargaining. So everyone in Illinois is considered unionized--despite the fact that not all regionals are unionized (SIUE and ISU aren't, for example).  That has got to put a big asterisk beside its conclusions.

It would also be worth wondering whether differences in cost of living correlate not only with urban/suburban vs. rural but with collective bargaining vs. non-collective bargaining states. If so, the difference the study attributes to unionization may actually be attributable to cost of living.  A little sour note on the pro-union headline is your reward for reading this far.

In short, more study is needed. But I've done as much as I can . . .

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