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Who Holds Professional Positions in Higher Ed, and Who Gets Paid?

Women and minority professionals are gaining representation in several higher education employment areas but continue to hold leadership roles less often than their white male counterparts.

May 6, 2020
 
iStockphoto.com/hyejin kang

Professionals who are women or members of racial or ethnic minority groups remain underrepresented in all higher education leadership areas except one, according to a new report whose lead author says much of the disparity is due to insufficient hiring pipelines and gaps in pay.

The annual report, released today by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, known as CUPA-HR, examines data from 1,114 higher education institutions covering more than 250,000 employees in 396 midlevel positions. The report includes data on midlevel professionals, breaking out factors like salary, race and ethnicity, gender, age, and years employees have held their position.

Pay for higher ed professionals over all went up in the last year. Higher education professionals received a median salary increase of 2.66 percent from 2019 to 2020, the report shows. The highest increase was among employees at associate’s degree-granting institutions, with an increase of 3.05 percent.

Women and minority professionals are well represented in higher education positions over all. Six in 10 higher education professionals are women. One in five positions are held by racial and ethnic minorities. In a majority of employment areas, women and minorities hold far fewer leadership positions than their while male counterparts.

Women hold 69 percent of leadership positions in academic affairs, but only 19 percent in facilities, 29 percent in athletics and 28 percent in information technology. Racial and ethnic minorities are best represented in fiscal affairs leadership (28 percent) but vastly underrepresented in athletics (11 percent) and research/health science (11 percent). Black and Hispanic women fare even worse, holding only 2 percent of athletics leadership positions and 3 percent of facilities, information technology and research/health leadership positions.

The findings echo an earlier report by CUPA-HR that found women and minorities are also underrepresented in higher education executive roles.

Women and minority leaders are also paid less than their white male counterparts in these areas, with one exception.

“The clear exception to this is in fiscal affairs, where women in leadership positions in accounting, audits and finance are being paid more than are men in those positions,” said Jackie Bichsel, lead author of the report and director of research at CUPA-HR. “I think that’s interesting because the area of fiscal affairs is the area with the highest representation of women.”

Fiscal affairs also has the highest representation of black and Hispanic women leaders. They earn more than their white male counterparts: $1.08 to every white man’s dollar, “which is very high,” Bichsel said.

In contrast, the pay gap is largest for women in facilities, which also has the highest median salary for professionals at $77,000 and the highest median age, 53.

Ellen Heffernan, president of Spelman Johnson, an executive search firm, underscored the importance of strong pay and representation for women in finance.

“That’s saying a lot, because it’s really hard to get women in finance,” she said. She partially attributed the results to efforts by the National Association of College and University Business Officers to get more women and minority candidates into the pipeline for financial affairs positions. NACUBO hosts several initiatives for women and minority professionals, including a fellows programs that focuses on diversifying the pool of business and finance leaders.

Susan Whealler Johnston, NACUBO’s president and CEO, said she's encouraged by CUPA-HR's new data, but "that’s not good enough." She will to continue to push for greater diversity in all higher education employment areas.

A handful of other notable findings: academic affairs is the largest employment sector for higher education professionals with a median number of 30 professionals per institution. Higher education professionals on the West Coast and in the Northeast make the highest median salaries -- in Oregon, professionals make $88,388. The health science and environmental sustainability sectors had the highest growth rate for number of employees, increasing their ranks by 32 percent over the past year.

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