Faculty

Unionization Pays Off for Community-College Instructors

April 15, 2015

Being represented by a union appears to pay big financial dividends for full-time instructors at community colleges, a new study concludes.

Depending on the size, location, and public-financing sources of their institution, unionized full-time instructors earn from about 5 to 50 percent more in pay and benefits than do their nonunionized peers at similar community colleges, says a paper summarizing the study’s results.

"The differences are stunning," says Stephen G. Katsinas, a professor of higher education at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa who is one of the study’s three co-authors.

Among the forces influencing how much community colleges pay their instructors, "collective bargaining, in itself, matters," says Mr. Katsinas, who plans to present the study’s findings in New York on Sunday, at an annual conference held by the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.

Other research on the impact of collective bargaining on faculty pay has struggled to quantify how much differences in instructors’ earnings were attributable to unionization versus other contributing factors, such as differences in institutional size or in the regions that colleges served.

Mr. Katsinas and other scholars reached conclusions similar to the new study’s in a 2006 analysis of community-college data, but that effort was hampered by a reliance on outdated data on where unions existed. It also failed to take into account 113 institutions — among them, large community-college districts such as Miami-Dade — that could not be factored into an analysis of community colleges under the classification scheme used by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

The new analysis uses a modified classification scheme to factor in the previously excluded institutions, which include community colleges that either offer four-year degrees or are offshoots of four-year public institutions, as well as public baccalaureate colleges that primarily offer associate degrees. It uses federal data on faculty earnings from the 2010-11 academic year, the last for which the Education Department collected information on benefits.

"There are amazing differences in monetary compensation of full-time faculty across the landscape of community colleges when geography, collective bargaining, and local appropriations are all accounted for," the new study concludes.

On average, it found, unionized full-time faculty members annually received pay and benefits amounting to about $95,000 at community colleges that received a significant share of their funds from local governments and about $77,000 at community colleges that lacked such a local source of financial support. Nonunionized faculty members received less than $68,000 in pay and benefits, on average, regardless of where their community college derived its tax revenue.

The size of the community college where a faculty member worked and the type of community it served also made a big difference.

At the top of the pile, full-time faculty members at suburban, multicampus, locally financed community colleges annually earned an average of nearly $106,000 in pay and benefits. At the bottom, such faculty members at small, rural, locally financed community colleges earned total compensations averaging just over $61,000.

The other authors of the new study were Nathaniel J. Bray, an associate professor of higher-education administration at the University of Alabama, and Barry R. Mayhall, a doctoral student in higher education at Alabama and a mathematics instructor at Snead State Community College, in Boaz, Ala. The paper on their findings will be released after next week’s conference.

Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.