HESA

Higher Education Strategy Associates

Category Archives: salaries

September 24

The Math at Windsor

Not only is there strike talk at Laurentian, but there is also a strike in the air at Windsor (a one-day strike was held last week, but a full strike is promised for October 1st if no deal is reached).  Bargaining there began earlier this year, but for whatever reason, no progress was made in negotiations over the spring.  After a conciliator was unable to nudge the two sides closer together, the university was in the legal position to impose its offer on the faculty, which it did in early July. This was a canny piece of timing: by doing this in the summer, the university deprived the union of an immediate strike threat (because who cares if profs go on strike in summer?).

This was a rare case of a university playing hardball on timing; and though this may have wrong-footed the union, they’ve responded by making great rhetorical hay out of having a contract imposed on them.  Now, the strike is no longer about petty monetary demands, it’s about the right to collective bargaining.  Yay, righteousness!  And that’s a big bonus for the union, because if the strike was just about financial proposals, their position would be almost indefensible.

The union position is that the university’s offer – 0%, 0%, and 3% over three years – is inadequate because staff can’t be expected to accept wage increases below inflation.  While that’s one way of framing the institution’s offer, it glosses over the stonking amount of money the university is offering faculty through its Progression Through the Ranks (PTR) system (for a refresher course on PTR, see here).  Under the university’s offer, every single professor (other than those with over 30 years experience) gets an annual pay rise of $2,550.  This isn’t based on merit or anything, the way it is at Alberta or UBC or Waterloo, it’s just for sticking around another year.  On top of that, they get 0%, 0%, 3%.

Now that doesn’t translate easily into a percentage figure because $2,550 represents a different percentage for each professor, depending on their current pay. But let’s take a stab at it based on known average pay by rank.  Current pay figures are unavailable (thanks for cutting the UCASS faculty salary survey, StatsCan!), but I do have them from 4 years ago – they’ve probably gone up slightly since then, but for giggles let’s use them to take a look at what the university offer means if the PTR is included.

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On top of that, there’s something called the “Windsor Salary Scale” – a Windsor-only deal, in place for decades, which means that the Windsor salary scale always rises at the Ontario median.  Based on the past few years’ deals, this would mean average pay rises of another 4% or so (15.4% now for assistant profs, if you’re counting) – though it’s hard to predict exactly, since we don’t know what future salary settlements across Ontario will look like.  On the other hand, professors will also be asked to pay more into their pensions, what with returns being so meagre in our low-interest rate environment.  So let’s call these two a wash and stick with the figures in the table above.

To summarize, this deal – which, recall, had to be imposed – will see nearly all faculty salaries rise by rates well above inflation (in the case of assistant professors, by a factor of two).  The only ones who will not see a rise equal to inflation are that tiny minority (the 30+ years crew) already at the top of the pay grid, and who in most circumstances will be earning over $150,000.

Remember, this is at a university in a region where first-year enrolment fell by 10% this year, and where the regional youth cohort (Windsor-Essex-Chatham-Kent) is set to shrink by 15% or so over the next six years – meaning the institution will receive even fewer tuition dollars, and will receive a declining share of total government grants budget, which, if we’re lucky, will decline by only 3% in real terms over the next three years.

And still the union said no.

September 23

Another Reason to Get Serious About Measuring Workloads

So I see the Laurentian faculty union is threatening to strike.  The main issues are “workload” (they’d like to have lower undergraduate teaching loads to deal with an influx of graduate students) and pay (they’d like to “close the gap” with the rest of Ontario).

This is where the entire system would be well served by having some understanding of what, exactly, everybody is getting paid for.  Obviously, if you’re doing the same amount and type of work as someone else, you’ve got a pretty good claim to parity.  The problem is that what professors do – that is, their expected workload and outputs – can vary significantly from one place to another.

Lets’s take the issue of graduate supervision.  Laurentian profs are doing more of it than they used to – overall, 6% of full-time enrolments at Laurentian were at the graduate level in 2012, up from 4% five years earlier.  But if we’re going to use “the Ontario average” as a goal, it’s worth noting that across the province, 12% of full-time students are graduate students.  So on average, Laurentian professors do only about half as much graduate supervision as other professors across the province – and probably less if we were to weight doctoral supervision more highly.

Well, what about undergraduate teaching – maybe they do more of it that others?  On paper, they teach 3/2 (except in Science and Engineering, where its 2/2).  That’s the same as at most smaller Ontario institutions, and somewhat more than you’d see at larger institutions where 2/2 or even 2/1 is the norm.  But that’s not the whole story: class sizes are smaller at Laurentian.  Sixty-seven per cent of all undergraduate classes at Laurentian are under 30 students, compared to just 51% at York (though, surprisingly, the figure at Queen’s is almost the same as Laurentian – 65%).  But ask yourself: which takes more work, a 2/1 with average class sizes of 60, or a 3/2 with an average class size of 30?  Hard to tell.  But how can you make arguments about “equal pay for equal work” unless you know?

Then there’s research output.  If you use tri-council funding as a metric, and normalize for field of study, Laurentian profs in Science and Engineering are winning about 55% of the national average – higher than Ryerson, but less than half of what Carleton gets.  That’s not too bad.  In humanities and social sciences, however, Laurentian wins only 21% of the national average – about a fifth of what they get at Ottawa, and a third of what they get at Laurier (all data from our Measuring Academic Research in Canada paper, available here.  I could go on with data about publications and citations, but you get the idea: Laurentian professors’ research output isn’t all that close to the provincial average.

To recap: Laurentian is a school where (on average) professors have lower graduate teaching responsibilities and research output than the Ontario average, and an undergraduate teaching load that is higher than average in terms of number of classes, but is arguably lower in terms of total students taught.  So where should their pay be, relative to the provincial average?  Probably somewhere below the average, which indeed is where it is.

But the question for this dispute is: how far below?  Better comparative data, combined with some agreement about the relative weight of different parts of the professorial job, would take a lot of heat out of this debate.

September 12

Hosanna! *More* Graduate Income Data!

Okay, so I goofed on Tuesday.  Contrary to what I said, Colleges Ontario actually does publish sector-wide data on graduate incomes six months out – they just don’t publish it with the rest of the KPI data.  Instead, it’s at the back of the graduate outcomes section of their excellent annual Environment Scan (thanks to Glenn for the heads up).  So let’s take a look at what they say.

On Tuesday we noted that graduate employment outcomes for college graduates six-months out seemed to have taken a bigger knock in the recession than university graduates.  To wit:

Figure 1: Percent of Ontario Graduates Employed Six-Months Out, by Graduating Class

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That said, although employment results have fallen significantly, the picture is somewhat better when you look at the changes in graduate incomes.  Now, looking at “college” outputs is always a bit tricky because colleges offer so many different kinds of credentials.  In Figure 2, we look at change-over-time in incomes for holders of each credential, and also the weighted average for all credentials.

Figure 2: Income of Ontario College Graduates Six-Months After Graduation, by Credential Level, by Graduating Class, in $2011

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In one respect, Figure 2 is about what you’d expect: the longer a college program lasts, the more a college graduate makes (graduate certificates are a partial exception in that they are usually one-year, but they are meant to be delivered after four years of university, so the basic rule still holds).  But it also shows that in real terms, the diplomas, advanced diplomas, and graduate certificates have held their value reasonably well, while certificates have lost 4% (degrees have lost more – 5% – but the numbers there are tiny and therefore subject to a bit more volatility).

Now let’s see how that compares to the six-month numbers at universities, which are below in Figure 3:

Figure 3: Income of Ontario University Graduates Six-Months After Graduation, by Field of Study, by Graduating Class, in $2011

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Figure 3 show a slightly different picture than what we saw with the 2-year out data back on Monday.  Humanities and physical sciences still saw the largest fall, but at six months the 2011 computer science grads were 7% up on the class of 2007 (as opposed to 3% down at the 2-year mark), and overall the decline was 6% (as opposed to 13%).  This implies that the job market for recent graduates actually got significantly worse between 2011 and 2013.

Finally, let’s compare college and university averages.

Figure 4: Income of Ontario College University Graduates Six Months After Graduation, in $2011

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Figure 4 shows – unsurprisingly – that university graduates make more than college graduates six-months out.  But it also shows that college credentials seem to be holding their value better than undergraduate degrees – down just 2%, rather than 6% for universities, over the period 2007-2011.

This is one of those rare cases where employment averages and income averages are moving in different directions.  In one sense, everyone wins: in the near future, expect Ontario universities to promote themselves as a way to a safe job, and Ontario colleges to talk about how their credentials hold their value in bad times.  And they’ll both be correct.

September 08

Some Scary Graduate Income Numbers

Last week, the Council of Ontario Universities put out a media release with the headline “Ontario University Graduates are Getting Jobs”, and trumpeted the results of the annual provincial graduates survey, which showed that 93% of undergraduates had jobs two years after graduation, and their income was $49,398.  Hooray!

But the problem – apart from the fact that it’s not actually 93% of all graduates with jobs, but rather 93% of all graduates who are in the labour market (i.e. excluding those still in school) – is that the COU release neither talks about what’s going on at the field of study level, nor places the data in any kind of historical context.  Being a nerd, I collect these things when they come out each year and put the results in a little excel sheet.  Let’s just say that when you do compare these results to earlier years, things look considerably less rosy.

Let’s start with the employment numbers, which look like this:

Figure 1: Employment Rate of Ontario Graduates 2 Years Out, Classes of 1999 to 2011

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Keep your eye on the class of 2005 – this was the last group to be measured 2 years out before the recession began (i.e. in 2007).  They had overall employment rates of about 97%, meaning that today’s numbers actually represent a 4-point drop from there.  If you really wanted to be mean about it, you could equally say that graduate unemployment in 2013 has doubled since 2007.  But look also at what’s happened to the Arts disciplines: in the first four years of the slowdown, their employment rates fell about two percentage points more than the average (though, since the class of ’09, their employment levels-out).

Still, one might think: employment rates in the 90s – not so bad, given the scale of the recession.  And maybe that’s true.  But take a look at the numbers on income:

Figure 2: Average Income (in $2013) 2 Years After Graduation, Ontario Graduating Classes from 2003-2011, Selected Disciplines

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Figure 2 is unequivocally bad news.  The average in every single discipline is below where it was for the class of 2005.  Across all disciplines, the average is down 13%.  Engineering and Computer Science are down the least, and have made some modest real gains in the last couple of years; for everyone else, the decline is in double-digits.  Business: down 11%.  Humanities: down 20%.  Physical Sciences: down 22% (more evidence that generalizations about STEM disciplines are nonsense).

Now, at this point some of you may be saying: “hey, wait a minute – didn’t you say last year that incomes 2 years out were looking about the same as they did for the class of 2005?”  Well, yes – but you may also recall that a couple of days later I called it back because Statscan did a whoopsie and said: “you know that data we said was two years after graduation?  Actually it’s three years out”.

Basically, the Ontario data is telling us that 2 years out ain’t what it used to be, and the Statscan data is telling us is that three years out is the new two; simply, it now takes 36 months for graduates to reach the point they used to reach in 24.  That’s not a disaster by any means, but it does show that – in Ontario at least – recent graduates are having a tougher time in the recession.

Tomorrow: more lessons in graduate employment data interpretation.

July 28

Coming Soon to Ontario: a British Columbia Solution

Unless you’ve been out of the country, or under a rock, for the last couple of years, you’ll be at least vaguely familiar with the concept that the province of Ontario is broke.  So broke, in fact, that it has departed radically from previous practice and, back in 2012, effectively froze physicians’ pay for two years.  Not individual physicians, of course – but on aggregate.  A zero overall increase.  And the government is now working to try to extend this freeze for another couple of years.

That makes good sense.  Health care costs have historically risen at several percentage points above inflation, and have squeezed other parts of the provincial budget (education has held out OK, all things considered, but other budget lines have been less well-protected), and physician costs are a major item in the health care budget.  And so saving money in this area is to be welcomed, even if it is at the expense of physicians – who are a politically tricky group to offend.

So what might the provincial government think of the post-secondary sector handing its employees raises of 3-4% per year, on aggregate?  Do you think aggrieved doctors won’t point to this anomaly during this pay round?  Can you imagine any possible rejoinder the government could offer that would make the least bit of sense?

Don’t you think maybe this situation is about to come to a rather sudden end?

For whatever reason, universities in Ontario have not been able to resist rising wage pressure from full-time faculty.  Despite money getting tighter, they have felt compelled to sign agreements that are plainly beyond their means (Hel-LO, University of Ottawa!).  Some university presidents, unable to deal with this problem on their own, are saying that they need government to step in to play “bad cop”.

What does the “bad cop” look like?  Well, take a look at how BC has handled wage negotiations over the last few years.  There, universities (and all other public sector entities) are given a biennial mandate with respect to employee negotiations.  In 2010 and 2011, the deal was: negotiate what you like, but the net cost of any new compensation deal cannot exceed zero.  In 2012 and 2013, that was changed to: there could be increases, but they had to be balanced dollar-for-dollar with efficiency savings in other areas.  The 2010-11 arrangements, in conception at least, are close to the approach Ontario has taken with its physicians.  And it worked pretty well, at least in the sense that it has kept costs down with a minimum of political fuss.

Not everyone in Ontario agrees that the province needs to take the bad cop approach.  Quite a number of university presidents (you can probably guess which ones) oppose asking the province to legislate on their behalf; not only do they feel it morally incumbent on universities to manage their own books, but also it is tactical suicide to ask governments to legislate – once you go down that road, there’s no telling where they’ll stop micromanaging universities’ affairs.

The problem is, those presidents haven’t exactly been too successful at reigning-in costs, either (hello again, University of Ottawa!).  So it seems almost inevitable that some sort of BC-like solution is on the cards.  The idea that profs could gain 15% in salary over four years, while physicians get zero, simply isn’t politically tenable.

June 02

Bad Memory

Some really sobering stuff in a paper I just got from Statscan called, “Job Market Realities for Post-Secondary Graduates”.  Listen to this:

  • “Graduates of a field with low unemployment and little underemployment were also likely to earn high salaries and be content with their jobs.  They were usually graduates of job-oriented fields such as engineering, teacher training, most health disciplines, business, computer science and some technologies.”
  • “A more general education in subjects with little practical application often (leads) to a lower-paid job which made little use of knowledge and skills acquired during the years of study… those who fared worst held degrees/diplomas in fine and applied arts, humanities and social sciences and some of the sciences.”
  • “Many trades, which do not require post-secondary education, pay better than some occupations held by postsecondary graduates, especially office work.”
  • “Newfoundland offered the highest starting salaries, with Saskatchewan a close second.”
  • “Half of all bachelor’s graduates planned to go back to school within two years.”

Enraging what decades of neo-liberalism has done to our education system, huh?  Why can’t we go back to the 70s when everyone had a job, humanities and social science graduates weren’t undervalued and everyone had a job?

Oh, wait, hang on.  This survey is from the 1970s!  In fact, all of this is from the two-year follow-up of the university and college graduating classes of 1976 (the forerunner of the current National Graduates Survey).

Turns out the 1970s weren’t quit the bonanza that some folks like Generation Squeeze like to make it out.  For the class of 1976 in Ontario, the unemployment rate 2 years out for university graduates was 8%.  For the class of 2010, it was 5%.  Average salary 2 years out for the class of 1976 was $14,600, or $47,300 in 2012 dollars.  For the class of 2012, the equivalent figure was $49,277.  In 1978, 80% of recent grads said their job had a relationship with their field of study.  In 2012?  82%.

I could go on here, but you get the picture.  There’s very little going on for graduates in the labour market that wasn’t going on forty years ago.  Back then, we were also in a resource boom, and trades looked good compared to Arts and Science.  Jobs in Newfoundland and Saskatchewan looked pretty good compared to jobs in Ontario (we don’t know about Quebec because back during the first PQ government, Quebec institutions weren’t allowed to participate in national studies like this).  This is just a phase we go through.

Of course, some people may look at this result and see stagnation.  Graduates only getting a $2,000 raise in 40 years!   But this is to miss the point almost entirely.  In 1978, the participation rate at Canadian universities was around 10%; we’re now just over 30%.  That is to say, even accounting for population growth, there are three times as many young people getting salaries which, on average, are the same as the coddled, easy-going graduates of the mid-70s.

Nostalgia makes us look at the past with rose-coloured glasses.  But it’s no basis for making policy.  Look past the soft-focus gauze and the rantings of the hell-in-a handbasket crowd: the fact is, our grads are doing as well as they have at any time in the last 40 years.  We should celebrate that.

April 16

Rewind on Those Foley/Green Numbers

So, you may remember that last week I published this neat little graph from the National Graduates Survey, showing university and graduate incomes across all ten provinces, three years after graduation.  Note that although the numbers vary by province, the university number is always higher than the college number.

Median Earnings of College and Bachelor’s Graduates Three Years After Graduation, in 2013

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The super-keen among you may also remember something I wrote three weeks ago, about a paper by Kelly Foley and David Green, which I summarized thusly:

“In Ontario and Quebec, returns to education are what you’d expect: higher for graduate degrees than for Bachelors, which in turn are higher than for college diplomas.  But it turns out that both in the Atlantic and in the West, the returns to college education are actually higher than the returns to university.  Indeed, in western Canada they are even higher than they are for graduate studies.”

How can both be true ?  Basically, it’s because they’re using slightly different definitions of university and college.

Here’s the issue: Foley and Green used the Labour Force Survey data.  That’s quite a different source of data from NGS.  For instance, it includes graduates of foreign universities, who tend to make less than those educated locally. There’s not many of these in the 25-29 category, but it does reduce the university number a bit.

But the major reason is this: Foley and Green included “trades certificates and apprenticeships” in their definition of college.  At one level that’s fair enough, because most (though not all) of the technical training that occurs in apprenticeships occurs in colleges.  But on the other hand, it does obscure some important differences between the two.

Start with income.  Ten years ago, males 25-29 holding trade certificates and college diplomas made almost the same amount; now, there’s an enormous gap.

Median Weekly Wages, Males Aged 25-29

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Now, look at the distribution by region of Foley/Green’s “college” population.  In Ontario, less than 20% of this population holds a trade or apprenticeship credential; in Alberta it’s over 35%.

Distribution of College/Trade Credentials Among Males 25-29, Ontario and Alberta (Source: National Household Survey)

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So, to summarize: Within the Foley/Green description of college graduates there are two distinct groups, one of whom makes more than the other.  And the better-off group is more prevalent in the west than it is in Central Canada.  So it’s not that young Western Canadian male college diploma holders are better off than young Western Canadian male university bachelor’s graduates, it’s that young Western Canadian males who received training in colleges are better off than young Western Canadian male university bachelor’s graduates.

I hope that’s clear.

This college/trade advantage disappears relatively quickly after age 30, but I’ll get to that another time.

March 06

Sessionals

The plight of sessional lecturers (or, as they call them in the US, “adjuncts”) is possibly the only issue in higher education that generates even more overblown rhetoric than tuition fees.  Any time people start evoking slavery as a metaphor, you know perspective has flown the coop.

Though data on sessional numbers in Canada are non-existent, no one disputes that their numbers are rising, and that they are becoming an increasingly central part of major universities’ staffing plans.  In large Ontario universities, it’s not uncommon for certain faculties to have 40-50% of their total credit hours taught by sessionals.  Wage data is scarce, too, though last year University Affairs produced a worthwhile survey on sessionals’ working conditions.  The numbers vary from place to place, but let’s just say that relying solely on sessional wages must be pretty challenging.

A problem in generalizing about sessionals is that they come in two distinct varities.  First are the mid/late-career professionals who already make good money from full-time employment elsewhere, and who help provide relevant, up-to-date content based on practical experience in programs like Law and Nursing.  For them, sessional teaching is a way to pick up an extra cheque, and maybe have some fun doing it. Outside Arts & Science, this is the dominant model of sessionals, and universities are much the better for their presence.

In Arts & Sciences, on the other hand, sessionals are much more likely to be recent PhD graduates looking to get a foothold on the academic ladder.  Unable for the moment to make the tenure track, taking multiple sessional gigs lets them stay within the university system, but prevents them from doing what they (and indeed the entire higher ed system) value most: research.  As a result, being a sessional can sometimes take one further from the tenure track, rather than closer to it.  The sessional “crisis”, needless to say, focuses on this latter group, rather than on the professionals.

What’s truly bizarre about the discourse on sessionals are the frankly conspiratorial views of the cause of the “crisis”.  But there’s no mystery here: universities, for the most part, get paid by governments and students according to how much teaching they do; despite this, they pay their academic staff to spend roughly half their time doing stuff other than teaching.  Unsurprisingly, this results in there being more teaching duties than available teaching time.  Hence the need for sessionals (a need that has only grown larger as research has increased in importance).

And why is their pay so low?  Partly, it’s a free market and there’s a heck of a lot of people willing to do academic work for very little pay.  But partly it’s because institutions have a conscious choice to prioritize pay rises for existing full-time staff (gotta pay more for research excellence!) over hiring new full-time staff. Had pay levels stayed constant in real terms over the last 15 years, and the surplus gone into hiring, the need for sessionals in Arts & Science would be practically nil.

Basically, no one “decided” to create an academic underclass of sessionals.  Rather, they are an emergent property of a system where universities mostly earn money for teaching, but spend a hell of a lot of it doing research.

March 05

The Long-Term Benefits of Higher Education

A very good Statscan report came out last week, and didn’t get nearly enough attention.  Authored by the excellent Marc Frenette, it’s called, An Investment of a Lifetime? The Long-term Labour Market Outcomes Associated with a Post-Secondary Education, and it deserves a wide readership.

What Frenette did was link the 1991 census file to the Longitudinal Worker File (LWF), which integrates data from Records of Employment, annual T1 and T4 files, and some data on employers as well, for a 10% random sample of all Canadian workers.  From this, he created a sample of about 8,000 people who were born in Canada between 1955 and 1957 (i.e. who were about 35 years old at the time of the census), and who held jobs in 18 out of 20 years since then. From this, he worked out what the added value of university and college credentials were over that period.

Figure 1 shows earnings by education level.  For men between the ages of 35 and 55, the added benefit of a college education (vs. high school) was $153,000; for a university education it was $445,000 (for women, the figures were $115,000 and $280,000).  In addition to higher salaries, higher levels of education were also associated with higher levels of union membership, and lower frequency of layoffs.

Figure 1: Net Present Value of 20-Year Earnings of Canadian-Born Workers, by Level of Education

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Figure 1 isn’t exactly ground-breaking; more education = more money, and more so for men than women.  Where it gets interesting is when the results are disaggregated by gender, and attention is paid not just to means and medians but also at the distributional tails.  Figure 2 compares the wage premiums at various percentiles for female college and university graduates, over high school graduates in the equivalent percentiles.

Figure 2: Cumulative Additional 20-Year Earnings for Female College and University Graduates, at Selected Percentiles

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Figure 2 shows three things.  First, women with university degrees make more money than those with college or high school across all percentiles.  Second, that said, down around the 5th-10th percentile, the premiums are so low that it’s really not clear that women are better off with higher education.  And third, the premium for higher education really flattens out above the median – which, as Figure 3 shows, is not even vaguely the case for men.

Figure 3: Cumulative Additional 20-Year Earnings for Male College and University Graduates, at Selected Percentiles

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Crazy stuff.  Recall from Figure 1 that average gains for men were significantly higher than for women.  But Figure 2 and Figure 3 show that the median gains – those at the 50th percentile – are about the same.  The difference is that among males, the top ten percent – and especially the top five percent – are reaping astronomical rewards from higher education.

The last amazing thing in the paper has to do with how men and women with bachelor’s degrees fare comparatively in the public and private sectors.  And the numbers there are astonishing: in the bottom ten percentiles in the private sector, women are making less money, cumulatively, than their counterparts with just high-school education.  But what’s really interesting here is the fact that in the public sector, at least, women actually reap higher gains than men.

Figure 4: Median Cumulative Additional Earnings for Male and Female University Graduates in Public and Private Sectors

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Nitpickers will likely snub this study – it deals with a cohort that finished school 35 years ago, it doesn’t disaggregate by field of study, etc.  But methodologically, it points to ways to conduct future studies (we could do the same with a shorter period for 25 year-olds in the 2001 census, for instance), and substantively it gives us a lot to chew on, not only in terms of average earnings, but also with the distribution of those earnings.  Kudos to Marc for this work.

February 13

“Comparability” in Salaries

Come salary negotiation time, every faculty union wants to be paid based on what “comparable” universities are getting.  It was a huge point in the UNB strike, it continues to be one in the Mount Allison strike, and presumably it will be one at U Winnipeg as well (the strike deadline is February 24).

There are three problems with the notion of “comparability”.  The first is obvious: finding genuinely comparable institutions.  On what, exactly, do you compare?  Size? Mission?  Teaching loads?  Research output?  There are number of plausible metrics here, but when choosing “comparable” schools the metric for comparability is never entirely transparent.  And the problem is that in the absence of rigorous metrics, faculty unions might simply try to find official “comparators” that are significantly more prestigious (and better-paid) than themselves, because then they’ll look worse by comparison, and hence be deserving of a larger raise.  Cue round after round of salary gains.

There is, of course, a simple way to stop this kind of gaming: institute a rule that if one institution is going to be considered a comparator to another, both sets of faculty unions must agree.  That is, for the faculty association of (for instance) UNB to be permitted to claim that Queen’s and Waterloo are “comparable” institutions for the purpose of salary, the faculty associations at Queen’s and Waterloo would: a) have to agree that UNB is a comparable institution; and, b) include UNB as a salary comparator in their negotiations.  This form of gaming would stop PDQ.

The second solution is slightly wonkish, and has to do with seniority and salary grids.  Let’s say two institutions are genuinely indistinguishable from one another and have identical pay grids, but at one the staff tends to be older and have more years of employment, and hence are paid better due to seniority. Could the university with the more junior staff claim the need for a raise because of “comparability”?  Real-life example: average pay at every single rank at UNB is about $10K behind the equivalent at Dalhousie, but because UNB staff are on average much more likely to be full profs on higher salaries, the average salary of all profs across each institution looks about the same.  Leaving aside the institutional comparability issue for a second, UNB profs have a legitimate argument about being underpaid.  But if they get a raise, then the administration has a legitimate concern about overpaying in total for professorial services.  See?  Trickier than it looks.

But say these two technical problems are solved: say you’ve found genuinely comparable universities and you can get over the problem of staff heterogeneity. There’s still going to be the problem of affordability.  A Mexican or Costa Rican university might declare itself comparable to a Canadian one, but that doesn’t mean it can afford to pay its staff on a similar basis.  Similarly, within Canada, not every institution is equally well-funded.  McGill and Alberta are comparable institutions in many respects, but one’s in Alberta and one’s in Quebec.  No prizes for guessing which one’s profs make 10% more than the other, on average.  And striking about it, even if that were something McGill profs ever did, wouldn’t change that one bit.

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