Webster University’s faculty will not get a raise in the coming school year—unless the University’s financial picture improves.
The announcement came from a report from the Committee on Salary and Fringe Benefits at the Faculty Assembly meeting on April 21.
Faculty were told the school faces a $19 million budget shortfall in the coming year. That shortfall is up $7 million from what the University had originally projected during the fall semester.
The 2015 fiscal year overview showed Webster University’s student enrollment decreased and that the university would miss it’s planned revenue mark by 10 percent. The University blamed declining enrollment across Webster’s metro and military campuses, particularly in graduate programs.
Jim Brasfield, a professor in Webster’s management department, has been at the university for 39 years. Throughout that time, he said the university has never lived off of its endowment. Instead, it is a 95 to 97 percent tuition-dependent university with a small endowment.
“If there’s a drop in enrollment and tuition revenue, that puts a strain on the budget,” Brasfield said. “Almost every dollar that we spend is from tuition money. We spend most of that money, but typically there’s a little bit of a cushion. But that cushion in next year’s budget is pretty low relative to the size of the budget.”
John Barnshaw, the senior program officer and senior higher education researcher at American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said a zero-percent increase in faculty salaries is very uncommon for institutions nationwide. However, since the recession in 2008, a zero-percent increase is more common than it had been in the 10 years prior. According to the AAUP survey, of 1,100 institutions and 375,000 faculty, 1.4 percent of faculty did not receive a raise this year.
“A zero-percent increase shows that the institution is probably right at the line for where it can be in terms of its current economic capacity,” Barnshaw said. “It basically says that it’s difficult to continue business as usual where faculty members aren’t receiving increase in salary.”
The AAUP survey also found that the national average salary change for all institutions this year was a 2.2 percent increase in nominal terms and a 1.4 percent increase in inflation-adjusted terms. For continuing faculty, it was a 3.7 percent increase in nominal terms and a 2.9 percent increase in inflation-adjusted terms.
Barnshaw said a zero-percent salary increase affects cost of living.
“For example, if you made $100,000 last year and inflation was at one percent, and then you make $100,000 again this year, you’ve essentially lost one percent of your income. Inflation caused you to not have the same standard of living as you had before,” Barnshaw said. “So when you have a zero-percent increase across the board, that’s concerning for faculty.”
Brasfield said it is discouraging to faculty who do not get a salary increase. He said if enrollment bounces back over the course of the next year and into the following year, and salary increases are able to be given, then this is a temporary blip. But if faculty continued to receive no increase in salary, it would turn into a larger problem.
“What tends to happen in those situations is that some of the best [faculty] leave, especially younger people who feel that they have some other career options,” Brasfield said. “And that’s not good for a university because you often lose your best young people.”
Brasfield said continuous zero-percent increases affect younger faculty members differently than those who are closer to retirement.
“You reach a certain age and it gets harder to switch to another place. On the other hand, somebody that is 30 and at the beginning of their academic career is likely to get a job elsewhere,” Brasfield said. “If there’s a perception that this institution is stagnant and continues to have a financial problem, it’s going to be hard to recruit people to come.”
Brasfield does not believe that Webster is at risk for this at this time. But faculty members leaving for other jobs could be a long-term implication if salaries continue to stay where they are.
“If we can’t do that, then we aren’t doing the best we can for students,” Brasfield said. “In that sense, current and future students have a stake in this as well.”
Brasfield said Webster University saw a zero-percent increase in faculty salaries for a full year, five years ago. However, this stagnation was followed the next year with salary increases of more money. The university has also been relatively consistent with faculty salary increases compared to inflation over the past five years. Meaning, when the cost of living was more expensive, faculty received higher salaries and vice versa.
A few steps must be taken in order to prevent future zero-percent faculty salary increases in the future, Brasfield said. To him, the most important thing is to take necessary actions to ensure that enrollment does not keep slipping. If that is not possible, then the university must look at what costs it can cut back.
“Webster needs to find a way going forward that it can pay salary increases, deal with various expenses and so on and still have enough of a cushion each year so that if we do have a slight downturn in enrollment, it’s not going to cause a crisis,” Brasfield said.
For the future, administration stated that if enrollments met targets, they would reevaluate the potential of a two-percent faculty salary increase. If enrollment targets are not met, it is probable faculty will not receive a raise for the rest of the school year. This reevaluation will be discussed in September.