Labor & Work-Life Issues

August 06, 2012

Fifth Annual Survey

Great Colleges To Work For 2012


This year The Chronicle's Great Colleges to Work For survey is based on responses from nearly 47,000 people at 294 institutions: 221 four-year colleges and universities, and 73 two-year colleges. All accredited institutions in the United States with an enrollment of at least 500 were invited to participate, at no cost to them.

About 20,000 of the people responding were faculty members, about 18,000 were professional staff members, and about 8,500 were administrators. The survey was sent to more than 117,000 people, with an overall response rate of about 42 percent.

The assessment was administered by ModernThink LLC, a human-resources-consulting firm based in Wilmington, Del. Its survey is based on an assessment that has been used in 55 "Best Places to Work" programs and more than 4,000 organizations. A panel of higher-education experts helped to customize it for unique college issues.

Each institution was asked to submit a list of full-time employees randomly selected across three categories: administration, faculty, and exempt professional staff. Adjunct faculty members were included for two-year colleges. The sample size, as large as either 400 or 600, was based on the number of employees in those categories. Institutions with fewer than 400 people in a category were invited to survey the entire employee population.

The assessment had two components: a questionnaire about institutional characteristics and a faculty/staff questionnaire about individuals' evaluations of their institutions. The assessment also included an analysis of demographic data and workplace policies, including benefits, at each participating college. The questionnaires were administered online in March and April.

In the faculty/staff questionnaire, people responded to 60 statements using a five-point scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." The statements were categorized into 12 dimensions, each one forming a Great Colleges recognition category, such as collaborative governance. A list of the 12 categories and examples of the survey statements that form them is below.

To determine the colleges to be recognized in each category, we divided the applicant pool into two classifications: four-year institutions and two-year institutions. Within each, there were three groups, based on total undergraduate and graduate enrollment: small (2,999 or fewer students), medium (3,000 to 9,999), and large (more than 10,000).

Recognition in each Great Colleges category, except for diversity, was given to the 10 highest-scoring institutions in each size for four-year colleges, and the four highest-scoring institutions in each size for two-year colleges. In the diversity category, three four-year and three two-year colleges were recognized.

Honor Roll status, for four-year colleges, was given to the 10 institutions in each size that were cited most often across all of the recognition categories. For two-year colleges, Honor Roll status was given to the four institutions that were cited most often in each size category.

The 12 Great Colleges Categories

Collaborative Governance

Faculty members play significant roles in decisions on academic programs. Employees agree with statements like "Faculty, administration, and staff are meaningfully involved in institutional planning."

Compensation and Benefits

Pay is fair, and benefits are satisfactory. Employees agree with statements like "This institution's benefits meet my needs."

Confidence in Senior Leadership

Leaders have the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary for the success of the college. Employees agree with statements like "Senior leadership provides a clear direction for this institution's future."


The college makes a concerted effort to create a welcoming and fair environment for all employees. Employees agree with statements like "This institution has clear and effective procedures for dealing with discrimination."

Facilities, Workplace, & Security

Facilities meet employees' needs, and the campus looks good. Employees agree with statements like "The institution takes reasonable steps to provide a safe and secure environment for the campus."

Job Satisfaction

There is an overall sense that the job is meaningful to the employee and to the college. Employees agree with statements like "My job makes good use of my skills and abilities."

Professional/Career-Development Programs

Employees get chances to develop skills and understand requirements for career advancement. They agree with statements like "Our orientation program prepares new faculty, administration, and staff to be effective."

Respect and Appreciation

Employees are regularly recognized for their contributions. They agree with statements like "Our recognition-and-awards programs are meaningful to me."

Supervisor or Department-Chair Relationship

Supervisors or chairs solicit ideas and make expectations clear. Employees agree with statements like "I believe what I am told by my supervisor/department chair."

Teaching Environment

Faculty say the institution recognizes innovative and high-quality teaching. They agree with statements like "Teaching is appropriately recognized in the evaluation-and-promotion process." (Faculty only.)

Tenure Clarity and Process

Requirements for tenure are clear. Employees agree with statements like "Promotions in my department are based on a person's ability." (Faculty at four-year institutions only.)

Work/Life Balance

Policies give employees flexibility to manage their lives on the job and at home. They agree with statements like "My supervisor/department chair supports my efforts to balance my work and personal life."