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Show Me the Money! - Can I Ask for a Raise in Academia?

March 20, 2017


Since the recent recession many colleges and universities have been able to hire more faculty and offer higher starting salaries compared to prior years. This has been great for those who have recently entered the academic job market. However, this has not been so great for many long-standing faculty who are increasingly frustrated with salary compression. 


For those who are unfamiliar with the term, salary compression is a trend where economic markets have changed so that salaries for incoming faculty increase, resulting in new junior faculty earning similar or higher base salaries than faculty who have been at the same institution/department for several years. This can have a negative affect on morale for existing faculty. It also results in a conundrum for administrators who need to offer incoming faculty higher salaries to stay competitive with peer institutions who are searching for qualified candidates, but may not have the funds to raise existing faculty members' salaries to avoid compression. 


This happened to me when I was first on the tenure track. I got my first faculty job during the recession and after a few years our department hired a newly-minted PhD as an incoming faculty member with a slightly higher base salary than mine.  My initial thought was, How can they compensate this new person more than me when I have demonstrated success in publishing and grant seeking, while this person only has promises to do so? I was encouraged by a number of my peers to ask my dean for a raise. However, asking for a raise in academia is more tricky than in industry. There are often limited (or no) other options for faculty to take a similar faculty position in the same city or region, so they are less likely to leave due to low salaries. In comparison, someone working in an industry that has several comparable companies in the same city or region can more easily leave their current post for the same job with higher pay somewhere else. What is a faculty member to do?


The most common scenarios where faculty will get a raise to their base salary are when:

  • Cost of living adjustments are given to all faculty.

  • A faculty member has an offer from a competitive university with higher pay and/or benefits.

  • A faculty member takes on administrative duties that include a salary increase. And/Or

  • A faculty member is promoted and receives a raise as part of the university's tenure and promotion guidelines.  

What if you believe you deserve a raise, but none of these scenarios apply to you?


There still may be hope. Here are some questions to ask yourself first.

1. Do I have a good, objective reason to ask for a raise?


Balancing university expectations and family commitments often leave us exhausted by the end of the day. We may feel under-appreciated and under-paid for the amount of effort we dedicate to our institution. We also may feel that others are compensated more than we are for the same or less work. But how do these feelings compare to your administrators' views of your work and compensation? 


Consider the following scenarios:

You: I deserve a raise, because I consistently churn out papers, submit grant applications, and receive good teaching evaluations.  


Your Chair: That is your job. You are meeting your job requirements and I don't understand why that merits a raise. 

You: I've been looking at other universities/departments and they pay more than what I get paid, so I'll need a raise for you to keep me. 


Your Chair: Other departments might have higher start salaries, but no one has offered you a higher salary, so there is no reason to give you a raise at this time. 

You: I need more money because _________ . (Fill in the blank here: I'm starting a family...I want to buy a house...My child is going to college soon...) 


Your Chair: That is too bad, but that doesn't merit a raise. 

You: I've been putting in 70 hours a week for this job. I want a raise.


Your Chair: I'm pleased with your dedication, but has your effort resulted in more money or recognition for our department or university?

You get the point. You will not get a raise simply because you think you deserve one. Why might your chair or dean give you an unscheduled raise?

  • You are bringing in a lot of grant money that results in direct support (salary and resources) to your university. Direct support  is key - grants that result in numerous subcontracts to other institutions or items that the university doesn't benefit from will not be viewed as favorably. 

  • You are elevating the visibility of your department or university through the work you are doing.

  • You are meeting goals and needs established by your chair or dean. 

Make sure you can bring evidence to your chair or dean about your accomplishments that may warrant a raise. Compiling a portfolio with evidence that administrators can look at while you make your case will only help your cause. Do your homework before you meet with administrators so that you are knowledgeable about current salary trends and/or whether other faculty are receiving unscheduled raises at your institution. 


2. Should I get an offer from another institution?


This is common advice given to faculty members who would like a raise. When I was faced with salary compression I was told by a number of colleagues to go on the market and get a higher offer. Personally, I felt like this was a waste of time and effort - I preferred to spend my time on my research and teaching than on the job market. I also didn't want to waste the time, effort and money of other institutions by interviewing at jobs I new I would never accept. 


Not going on the market ended up working to my advantage. Two years after asking for a raise I ended up going back on the job market anyway for personal reasons, so it was helpful that I didn't burn any bridges by going on the market earlier just for an offer (faculty sometimes talk across institutions, so you don't want a reputation as an offer-seeker). Second, I got the raise I asked for anyway, which made me feel more proud of my raise, because I knew it was given to me for merit and not because I threatened to leave. On the flip side, if you ask for a raise without an offer and are denied, your administrator may think you will enter the job market in the near future, which could be politically risky for some faculty members (despite how common it is). 


The choice is yours. You can go get a competing offer - it is often expected. However, you can always ask for a raise and seek out an offer later if you are denied. Finding a safe person within your institution to discuss this with may help you with your decision. 


3. When is the right time for me to ask for a raise?


There are some points in your career where you are more likely to receive a raise than others. When I first was affected by salary compression, some colleagues urged me to ask for a raise immediately. Then another colleague made a point I hadn't considered:


If you ask for a raise now, they will only raise it to match the amount that the new faculty member is making. This is a small increase. You are better off waiting until tenure review and asking for a larger salary bump than the standard raise.


This was helpful advice. Universities have a minimum raise you will get with a promotion. However, you can make a claim that you deserve more than the standard and this is the time where your chair or dean is going to give you a raise anyway. So, consider timing when you ask, such as:

  • Is our department in the financial position to give me a raise or larger raise?

  • Will I be receiving a raise soon anyway that I can negotiate?

  • Have I recently made any specific accomplishments that warrant a raise? 


4. What I will say when I ask for a raise?


You need to prepare for your meeting with your chair or dean. Being nervous is normal when asking for a raise, but this is a meeting where you need to remain assertive and confident. Strategizing starts when you schedule your meeting with your chair or dean. Their  administrative assistant will ask what the focus of the meeting is. Do not say it's to ask for a raise or personal. Simply state that you want to discuss your position.  


During your meeting, plan to make your case by stating the facts. Here is how a fact-based case could be made:


Faculty salaries in our field have been increasing and we have been hiring new faculty at the same salary that I am earning, even though I have had five years to demonstrate my value to the department. During that time, I have received X number of grants, which have supported a large portion of my salary, supported doctoral students' tuition and stipends, and resulted in new equipment for our department. I am publishing at a much higher rate than what I was told was required for tenure. I have also published a number of papers with doctoral students, which has helped them obtain faculty jobs at top-tier universities when they graduate, which further increases our department's visibility. My research has also been recognized as being important by my peers. I have received X awards and acknowledgments. I have also been asked to be a keynote speaker at two major conferences, which has increased the visibility of our department. I enjoy working in our department and respect our mission, which is why I have put so much effort into the work that I do, which has led to my success. I just believe that my salary could better reflect the value I bring to the department and institution. I feel that investing in me will result in a further return in your investment. 


This is not the time to appear whiny, argumentative, or overly humble. Take credit for what you have done. There are ways of acknowledging collaborative work without minimizing your own accomplishments. For instance, consider the difference between:


I can't take full credit for the work that has been done or project x. There are many others involved.


I co-lead a team of interdisciplinary researchers and have played an integral part in our success in securing funding and publishing findings from our work.


In terms of money, it is often wise not to ask for an exact dollar amount. Simply give a ball park figure about how much more you are asking for and making it slightly higher than what you believe you will receive - you most likely will receive a counter offer. 


My advice? Practice, practice, practice. You want to be confident, clear, and organized. You want to convey success without being pompous. Go over your presentation with others and don't forget the value of having hard copies of evidence for your chair or dean to review during your meeting. 


5. What is my plan if I'm denied my request for a raise?


There are many reasons that your chair or dean won't grant your request for a raise. They might view your performance differently (and less favorably) than you do. They may believe that you deserve a raise, but do not have the funds to give you a raise at this time. They might be concerned that if they grant you a raise that other faculty will follow your lead and there is not enough funding to increase everyone's salary. 


If you quietly accept the rejection, you run the risk of never being granted a raise. You asked for a raise, were denied, and you stayed. Why would your chair or dean give you a raise at a later time? There are ways that you can approach a rejection to increase your future attempts at securing a raise: 

  • First and foremost - do not get upset or irate. Yes, it may be upsetting, but you do not want to jeopardize your current position. Also, listening, taking, and applying constructive advice will do more for your career. 

  • Ask why a raise is not possible at this time. 

  • Ask what activities or accomplishments your chair or dean believes would warrant a raise in the future. 

  • Ask if there are other types of benefits (resources, summer salary, etc) that your chair or dean is able and willing to provide that are not an actual raise. 

  • Ask if there are mentors who your chair or dean believes you should work with to learn more about how to improve your performance at the institution. 

  • Consider getting an offer at a competitive department to use as leverage. After being denied a raise, your chair or dean might expect this. 

  • Contemplate whether you actually want to stay in your department or university - if you have considered everything else in this article and simply feel undervalued, maybe it is worth moving onto another department. 

Don't assume that your chair or dean is inappropriately evaluating your performance. Consider that there might be things that you can do to increase your productivity and warrant increased compensation. The only thing that could hurt your ego more than being rejected for a raise request is to go out on the market and find out that other institutions do not value your record either! 

The take-away: Asking for a raise is not common in academia, but it does happen. It is your responsibility to research salary and productivity trends to make sure that you are making the right decision of asking for an unscheduled raise. There are risks involved, so it's important to think these decisions through. Need help with career decisions or need some advice about salary compensation? Contact Nicole today to get advice and support that will help you get ahead in your career!


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