Education

Despite Iowa State's predicted 2019 enrollment decline, offers for 'prudent' employee raises remain

University stresses need to still maintain pay rates to keep talented staff

Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen talks July 30, 2018, with Rotarians after a Cedar Rapids downtown Rotary luncheon at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. She recently put forth a “prudent” plan to increase ISU salaries amid an increasingly competitive landscape for hiring faculty at higher education institutions. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Iowa State University President Wendy Wintersteen talks July 30, 2018, with Rotarians after a Cedar Rapids downtown Rotary luncheon at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex. She recently put forth a “prudent” plan to increase ISU salaries amid an increasingly competitive landscape for hiring faculty at higher education institutions. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Wanting to keep top-tier employees — despite an expected enrollment drop and an increasingly tight budget — Iowa State University will offer pay raises but be “prudent” by rolling them out in two parts.

ISU employees with “satisfactory work evaluations” will get a 1-percent raise Monday — the start of a new fiscal year — and then a second bump Oct. 1, according to a recent campuswide message from ISU President Wendy Wintersteen.

The second increase will be 1 percent also, but based on the previous year’s pay — not calculated with the additional July 1 increase — and not retroactive. So the actual annual increase equals 1.75 percent, not 2 percent, ISU said.

Last year, ISU awarded 1 percent increases to employees with “satisfactory” performance.

Staggering this year’s increases lets unit and department heads prepare for the extra expense, Interim Senior Vice President for Operations and Finance Pam Cain said in a memo to budget employees, according to ISU Internal Communications.

The projected $4.8 million needed to cover the first increase will come from ISU “central funding,” according to Cain, noting units and divisions will need to reallocate or identify other funding streams to cover the Oct. 1 increases.

Accommodating employee pay raises — increasingly necessary in a competitive higher education landscape — is growing more challenging with declining enrollment and mounting student, academic and campus demands.

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“Following a decade of historic growth and record graduating classes, we expect fewer students enrolled this fall,” Wintersteen said in her campus message this month.

That projection — similar to a 600-student drop the University of Northern Iowa forecast last week for the coming fall — “reflects the shrinking pool of high school graduates and potential community college transfers, more aggressive recruiting by neighboring states to keep their students in state, and lower international enrollment, which is a major issue nationwide,” according to Wintersteen.

“While we expect total enrollment will remain robust, any decline in student numbers in addition to insufficient state support has a significant budgetary impact,” she said.

ISU — along with the University of Iowa — could make up for lost enrollment revenue this fall through a 3.9 percent base tuition increase for resident undergraduate students. Both campuses are raising rates even more for students in costlier programs, But UNI froze tuition to help it compete with lower-cost peer regional schools.

Wintersteen said the tiered pay-raise plan is a “prudent” method of rewarding faculty at a time of budget challenges.

“But it is my hope this plan signals how serious we are about our number one budget priority — retaining excellent faculty and staff,” she wrote.

A Board of Regents faculty resignation report showed ISU tallied 44 resignations in 2017, or 83 percent more than the 24 in 2016 and the highest in a decade. New numbers provided to The Gazette this week show ISU resignations have ebbed slightly — dipping to 37 in 2018.

In exit interviews, most of the departing ISU faculty who responded said they were leaving for a better opportunity. About 2 in 5 of those responding said they’d be earning a “much higher than ISU salary,” according to the regents’ report.

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Wintersteen, reaffirming an earlier focus on faculty retention, said higher percentage raises for exemplary performance were possible, though raises topping 10 percent require approval from a senior vice president or from her. And those raises can only come Oct. 1, not Monday.

UI raises left to units, colleges

Although it hasn’t unveiled fall enrollment projections, the UI like ISU and UNI has grappled with tight resources alongside a growing demand to retain and recruit top faculty.

While below the 94 in 2016, total UI resignations in 2018 were on par with last year — inching up just one from 73 to 74, according to the new numbers provided by the Board of Regents. About half of those were clinical faculty — like those who practice at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.

According to 2017 faculty exit interviews, departing survey respondents registered the lowest scores for “satisfaction with compensation.”

When comparing faculty compensation with its top 10 peer competitors, a separate regents report last year found, the average UI faculty salary of $113,072 was second from the bottom. The University of California-Los Angeles, topped the peer group, with an average of $171,289, and all six of the other Big Ten universities in the group ranked above Iowa.

ISU, with its faculty salary average of $106,700, also ranked second from the bottom among its top 10 competitors. UNI, with its average of $80,962, did a little better by ranking sixth among its group of 11.

UI President Bruce Harreld has stressed his university’s need to recruit and retain top faculty. But he also has acknowledged the fiscal constraints his campus is under, and last year postponed the typical July 1 pay raises to Jan. 1.

In October, Harreld said deans and vice presidents had been given the flexibility to permanently adopt a new salary increase schedule — on either Jan. 1 or July 1 — meaning the campus no longer enacts uniform pay raises at the start of every budget year.

Some employees at ISU and the UI — and many at UNI — are unionized and get paid annually based on a negotiated contract.

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Regents in February approved agreements providing 2.1-percent base wage increases in 2019 and 2020 with the UI-based Campaign to Organize Graduate Students; UNI’s United Faculty; and the Service Employees International Union serving UI Hospitals and Clinics employees. The contract offering 2.1-percent base wage increases for the American Federal of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 61, which represents about 1,300 merit employees at ISU, is approved by the state.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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