Mason’s Faculty Salary Peer Group Revised

Posted: July 25, 2011 at 1:01 am, Last Updated: July 22, 2011 at 7:45 pm

On July 19, the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) approved an important change in the way Mason’s budget needs for faculty salaries will be calculated in the future, beginning with the 2012-14 biennial budget.

The change comes after nearly four years of efforts to have faculty salaries realigned to compensate for the higher cost of living in Northern Virginia. The result is a new SCHEV-approved national peer group for Mason.

The average faculty salary funding objective of the commonwealth for each public institution of higher education is the 60th percentile of that institution’s SCHEV-approved peer group. Based on its new peer group, Mason’s 60th percentile target has now been increased by 8.4 percent, or about $6,000.

And, as Senior Vice President Morrie Scherrens points out, the change is supported by the Offices of the Governor, the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Finance, as well as the staffs of the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Department of Planning and Budget, which is charged with developing the draft of the 2012-14 biennial budget that will be presented to the governor for his consideration.

So what difference does the new target make? As a result of Mason’s redesigned national peer group, the university’s 60th percentile salary target increases from $89,542 to $95,457.

No public institution in the commonwealth currently ranks at the 60th percentile of its peer group. Most currently rank no better than the 25-40th percentile. With its new peer group change, Mason’s ranking drops from the 26.9th percentile to the 7.8th percentile of its peers, the lowest ranking in the commonwealth.

Why is this decrease in its percentile ranking helpful to Mason? First, it clearly demonstrates that Mason has the greatest need for additional state funding for faculty salaries. Second, it shows that an additional $6,000 needs to be added to Mason’s previous 60th percentile average faculty salary target to reach the new target — meaning that the university’s average faculty salary needs to be considerably higher than it is now.

“The 8.4 percent increase in our average faculty salary target is real, and it will serve us well in the upcoming years. It may take the commonwealth a number of years to fully fund Mason at our new 60th percentile target, but they will advance us toward this 60th percentile objective at the same pace as the other schools,” says Scherrens.

“As of today,” adds Scherrens, “our new agreed-upon average faculty salary target more accurately reflects the high cost of living in this region, and when the state begins providing salary increases, Mason should receive a higher-than-average faculty salary increase each year until all schools in the state reach the 60th percentile target salary.”

A Long Process with Many Steps

To provide some background to the change, Scherrens explains that in 1988 Mason faculty received an 8.57 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) that was paid out to the faculty over the next two years. This adjustment has been included in the calculation of Mason’s faculty salary budget each year since then, but it has not been updated.

Some key steps in the most recent phase of Mason’s journey to obtain an updated COLA and a faculty salary peer group that was more reflective of the high cost of living in Northern Virginia are:

  • In the summer of 2007, Mason made an effort to persuade SCHEV and its staff of Mason’s need for a COLA increase.
  • In the spring of 2008, SCHEV staff advised that a COLA increase for Mason was not warranted.
  • Mason responded by offering to conduct a study comparing the cost of living in Northern Virginia against the cost of living in the geographic areas in which its SCHEV-approved peer institutions were located.
  • In June 2008, the journey nearly came to a complete halt when SCHEV advised Mason that its need for a revised COLA would not be reviewed further unless Mason conducted a statewide cost-of-living analysis. The expansion of the scope of the project represented a major deviation from the initial purpose of the Mason study, and it was impossible to obtain strong support for this initiative from the other schools because it was clear to them that there would be winners and losers. In comparison to their peer institutions, an increase in average faculty salary would be warranted for some institutions, but a decrease would be warranted for others.
  • After two years and several unsuccessful attempts to develop an acceptable statewide cost-of-living methodology, Mason changed course and decided that the only chance for success was to drop the mandatory statewide aspect of the study and return to a Northern Virginia-specific initiative.

The weak economy at this time made it obvious that funding would not be available to provide an immediate COLA increase for Mason. Nonetheless, the Mason team, led by Scherrens, was determined to have the peer group methodology changed and the higher cost of living in Northern Virginia acknowledged in the average faculty salary calculation.

“Initially there was a strong resistance to even acknowledge that there was a cost-of-living issue in Northern Virginia, but we overcame this position during this review process,” says Scherrens.

The Mason team had to persuade state officials in the key offices named above that the proposal had merit. With a fragile state economy and a number of other important unfunded state priorities, it was a difficult argument to make, but according to Scherrens, the initiative had no chance for success without the full support of each of these officials.

The university enlisted the services of Segal-Sibson, an international human resource consulting firm led by Elliot Susseles, senior vice president, and Heather Kazemi, vice president. The company worked closely with Mason’s Office of Institutional Research and Reporting, directed by Kris Smith.

“Together we developed hundreds of different models to make our case,” says Smith. “We rejected many of the statistical approaches ourselves; others were not acceptable to the leadership in Richmond. And then, last December, we developed a methodology (that was tweaked prior to final acceptance) that we knew had an excellent chance to gain Richmond acceptance.”

State, Mason Officials Contributed to Effort

Scherrens points to a number of individuals who helped in this long process.

  • James Dyke, SCHEV member and former secretary of education, was instrumental in helping the issue advance when there appeared to be no other support for Mason. Dyke’s strong advocacy in the summer of 2010 to drop the statewide aspect of the cost-of-living study was essential to Mason’s success.
  • Tony Maggio, senior legislative fiscal analyst on the staff of the House Appropriations Committee, was key to the final negotiations. One of the most highly respected legislative staff members in Richmond, Maggio is strongly committed to understanding the details of the issues facing higher education and analyzing alternatives, and he wants to be part of the solution. When he was convinced that Mason had developed a “best practices” solution, Maggio became a strong advocate.
  • SCHEV analyst Dan Hicks and other SCHEV staff worked diligently to effect a compromise that could be a sustainable prototype.
  • Mason Faculty Senate Chairs Suzanne Slayden and Peter Pober provided encouragement and valuable insight to continue the uphill battle. Their comments and suggestions reaffirmed both the importance of achieving a resolution to the issue and the anticipated impact the results would have on Mason’s teaching faculty.
  • Provost Peter Stearns provided strategic insight that was invaluable at several junctures throughout the process.

After four long years, Scherrens says, Mason is now properly positioned for faculty salary advancement. With increased private support and the prospects of improved state support, Mason will now advance toward a more equitable faculty salary average target objective, reflective of the high cost of living in Northern Virginia.



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60TH PERCENTILE               $89,542 60TH PERCENTILE               $95,457



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