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Most Arkansas college administrators saw a bump in their total compensation package between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2019. But for most of them, it wasn’t much.

Joseph Steinmetz, chancellor of the University of Arkansas, had total compensation package of $537,520 for the fiscal year that ended June 30. That’s 0.13% higher than his total compensation in fiscal 2017.

Glendell Jones, former president of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, had total compensation of $289,796 for the fiscal year that ended in June. That was a decline of about 1%. Jones resigned in July amid financial turmoil at the school and after a “no-confidence” vote from its faculty. Last month, Henderson’s board of trustees voted to join the Arkansas State University System and develop a merger agreement.

Still, between fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2019, a more typical compensation increase for Arkansas university administrators was 5% or less.

Arkansas Business tracked the rising pay by reviewing Administrator’s Compensation Survey reports filed with the state Department of Higher Education for fiscal 2017 and 2019.

The survey reports list the compensation of all employees at Arkansas’ public four-year univerties and two-year colleges who have salaries of $100,000 or more.

In the two-year period, the report grew from 853 pages to 950, with almost every page being a separate individual’s compensation report.

Arkansas Business focused on the 11 public universities, including the Arkansas State University and UA systems, and analyzed only the positions — not the name of the employees — that had the word “chancellor” or “president” as part of the title. Of the 108 positions in the 2017 survey that could be matched to the 2019 survey, 70 positions had a less than 5% increase in total compensation.

Mercer LLC of New York, an employment, health, retirement and investment consulting firm, said in an August news release that salary increases at U.S. companies have remained relatively stable, even with a competitive labor market and increasing concerns about turnover.

“Merit increase budgets for 2019 and projections for 2020 are largely consistent with the past five years, at 2.9% and 3.0% respectively,” the release said.

In Arkansas Business’ tables, total compensation is the total cost of the position and includes base salary plus benefits provided to all full-time employees, such as Social Security match, retirement plan contributions and health and life insurance. Some employees also receive special benefits like housing allowances. That amount is included in the total compensation as well. A few of the positions are subsidized with private funds, and those dollars are included in the total compensation figure and detailed separately.

Arkansas Business could not match some positions on the 2017 and 2019 surveys. Those positions were listed as additional positions on the tables, but may not be new positions.

The institutions provided the data to the Department of Higher Education.

The six-figure salaries, though, have raised concerns. “There are too many people on campus who don’t make a living wage,” said Michael Pierce, who teaches history at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He also is vice president of the Arkansas Public Employees Union. He said that setting administrators’ salaries based on the market might not be the best way to establish compensation.

“What we need to do as a university and as a state is to step back and see how … the markets for administrators are working,” Pierce said.

Being Competitive

The Arkansas State University System said it works “hard to control administrative costs, and this is reflected in the new higher education performance funding model,” Jeff Hankins, vice president for strategic communications and economic development, said in an email to Arkansas Business.

Starting July 1, 2018, Arkansas colleges and universities had a financial incentive to move students from initial enrollment to graduation in the most efficient, effective and affordable way possible as a new funding formula from the state went into effect. Starting this fiscal year, the schools risk losing funds if their students do not succeed.

Hankins said the ASU System strives to be competitive in staffing. “We conduct and review various surveys of peer institutions and higher education systems, and we remain on the low end of the rankings,” Hankins said. “We’ve made progress with faculty salaries among our peers, but we continue to focus on being more competitive.”

Nate Hinkel, a spokesman for the UA System, said in an email that it uses other Southeastern Conference school systems for salary comparisons.

“You’d find that many of these administrative salaries, from the president down, are well below those benchmarks of the SEC, while still striving to remain competitive enough to attract and retain the talent and skill sets needed,” he said.

When University of Central Arkansas President Houston Davis started in January 2017, he said he was going to examine administrators’ compensation packages and compare them with peer colleges in Arkansas and nationwide.

“We have found that, overall, compensation across our campus is lower than market,” Amanda Hoelzeman, a spokeswoman for UCA, said in an email.

She said UCA’s goal is for compensation of all employees to reach at least 90% of their market rate. It also wants to ensure that the top administrators’ pay remains in line with the market.

“Since 2017, we have eliminated two vice president roles … in order to reinvest in critical positions in administration and across campus,” Hoelzeman said. “We will continue to conduct the market and equity studies annually in order to help guide our hiring and compensation decisions.”

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