College News

Workforce talent maintenance fuels increase in faculty, staff salaries

Image By: Madeline Heim and Madeline Heim

UW System President Ray Cross released plans to increase faculty and staff salaries by 3 percent annually in a promise to “reinvest” in the system Monday.

As workforce needs continue to be flux, losing talent would mean “falling behind,” according to Cross.

“Attraction, retention, and recognition of high-quality faculty and staff are critical investment opportunities for future student success,” he said.

Starting July 1, UW employees will receive a 6 percent pay increase over the course of the next two fiscal years, which has not happened within the system in five of the last eight years. There has been an increase of less than one percent between June 2011 and July 2019.

In comparison to local postsecondary education, the faculty salaries “lag behind their peers.” Cross stated that employees of the system are paid significantly lower than market rates and must be competitive with talent pressure to avoid the “brain drain” of their faculty.

This proposal follows six years of frozen tuition and budget deficits caused by a lack of state support. In years past, 70 percent of the funding has come from state dollars, with the remaining amount covered by tuition. This increase is asking the state to fund the wage increase in full.

“A fully funded increase will protect our educational investments that students rely upon,” Cross said. “That is why we are requesting full funding, so that we preserve the investments we have in student classrooms.”

Although this increase will not be even with peer institutions, it would allow chancellors the opportunity to recognize their employees’ work.

In 2016, the salary increase request came when the regents and lawmakers approved a 2 percent increase annually throughout the 2017-’19 biennium. This would have costed the system $23 million to give raises without state support.

In a regents meeting last June, concerns over employee salary increases were included along with an outline of the capital budget for renovations, repairs and replacements of campus buildings swarmed prior to the start of the academic year.

At this time, UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen stated that “the quality of education depends on the ability to retain and recruit top faculty and staff.” Chancellors throughout the system shared similar sentiments of faculty leaving for higher salaries.

He also noted that faculty members were leaving their positions "typically, for $15,000 to $20,000 pay increases."

The increase in salaries comes at the same time that the system asked all employees statewide to complete a survey covering salary and benefits. This includes ranking the relative importance of salary versus other kinds of benefits.

“Many are interpreting this as a prelude to a future round of benefit cuts,” said Nicholas Fleisher, an associate professor of linguistics at UW-Milwaukee.

The correlation between talented staff and quality education remains a significant point of concern as the system tries to alleviate the burden of having little funding — and low reserves — available.

“As labor markets tighten, salaries rise, and inflation increases, reinvesting in UW faculty and staff with modest wage increases will ensure we are not falling behind and losing out on talent we need in Wisconsin,” Cross said.

His proposal will be considered by the Board of Regents Thursday. It will also be sent to the nearly 39,000 employees of the system statewide.

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