How to determine you need an equity increase and how to argue for one at a US state university

Disclaimer:  We are not financial or legal professionals.  Consult with an actual professional who has your interests in mind and/or do your own research before making any important decisions.

If you work at a state university in the US, your salary information is public information.  For many state universities, the data are available online– you can just google the name of your school and “salary” and click on the links.  For schools where the information is not online, and even those for whom it is, you can also get salary information by asking the university librarians.

If you don’t know what the other people in your department are making compared to you, try googling and see what you find.

Note that not all of the places online report data the same way.  Some report 9 month salaries separate from summer money.  Some include summer money in the numbers you get.  If you get summer money you can look and see what they think your salary is, otherwise you may have to ask someone or just or just skip directly to the library.  Some online places report calendar year instead of fiscal year salaries which is annoying.  The university library should report the fiscal year salary and will separate out 9 month from additional earnings even if the online places don’t (and for some states, there are multiple places that report salaries and the different websites sometimes report them differently!).

Once you have an idea what your salary is compared to people in your department… are you underpaid?  How do you compare to people who have worse cvs than you do?  How do you compare to the people making more than you are?  Are you a research active full professor making less than an associate professor?  Comparisons where the other person has not gotten an outside offer are especially compelling, but you shouldn’t let outside offers stop you– if a person has a higher salary from an outside offer and they’re not as productive as you are, you can still make the argument that your salary should be higher.

Who you compare yourself to is important– in my case, there’s a guy who never had an outside offer who was hired the year after I was who has a less impressive cv, fewer citations, fewer papers, equal quality etc. etc. etc. and it was very easy to use him as a comparison.  (The argument being that his best papers hit during years with raises, and my best papers hit during years without raises.  Or maybe they’re sexist.)  But my friend in a sister department has used several comparisons, some with outside offers, some without.  That way she could say, yeah, this person had an outside offer but this person didn’t, this person was hired a different year, but this person wasn’t.  And it made it very clear that her salary was the one out of whack, not a single comparison person.

Then write up your justification for a salary increase using these comparisons.  Put in charts or tables to make it easy to parse and to make your argument obvious.  My friend and I included this with our annual progress reports, but there’s no need to wait until then if you just found out about the equity problem now for the first time.  Your department head or dean may need extra time to figure out how to get equity increases and to lobby on your behalf.

On the other hand, universities, particularly those who have been through NSF ADVANCE, may have a system in place specifically for equity bumps.  Our uni, for example, runs everybody’s statistics in each department (not publications or grant money or anything like that) and sends each department head a graph of a linear regression that makes it clear who the department outliers are.  The department head then can look at the underpaid outliers and decide if they are outliers because of low publications, for example, or if they want to request equity adjustments from the central university.  Department heads like this because they get money from the university, and there’s no system in place for lowering outliers from the other direction, so nobody gets upset at them.  The department head still has to write up a request though– if you write up that memo for them, it will make their life easier and they will be more likely to put forward the equity request.

I’ve also seen people who don’t have good comparisons at their own university (ex. people in interdisciplinary departments/fields) find comparisons at other schools of similar ranks to theirs (you may also want to include any schools your university considers to be “aspirational”).  Here again it’s important to determine if a salary listed is 9 month or 12 month, and you can either email the person in question or you can call up *their* university library– you don’t have to be at the university to have access to the internal salary data.

I’ve gotten 2 equity bumps in my time here, each about 10% (though I was still underpaid after, despite promises– it’s easy here for them to request a 10% bump but more difficult to request a larger one).  My friend just got an ~$50K/year equity bump and will no longer be underpaid.

University peeps at state schools:  Have you googled your salary info?  Are you underpaid compared to your colleagues?

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12 Responses to “How to determine you need an equity increase and how to argue for one at a US state university”

  1. CG Says:

    We were allowed to make a case for equity adjustments last year. I could not justify it. I don’t make that much money, but it’s more of a field-wide problem than a me problem. I really like the idea of automatically generating and sharing data that shows salary outliers–wish my university would do that.

  2. Lisa Says:

    I was underpaid for years but my university makes it VERY difficult to do anything about it. Although our salaries are publicly available, some years they include our benefits as well (“total compensation” I guess), which bumps me up (because my family is covered on my health insurance plan) compared to the my closest male comparison (single) who was hired one year before me and has a weaker CV but was consistently paid more. Related colleges on campus have very clear procedures for addressing inequities on an annual basis, but our college does not. My Dept head basically told me I was not paid equitably but there was nothing he could do about it. Although I have significantly increased my salary by taking on a significant administrative role, it still chaps my hide.

    Another challenge is that in my field the easiest way to get salary bumps is to pay ourselves more from our research grants (and no, the publicly available salary data does not distinguish between $ we are paid by the University and $ we pay ourselves). Our college seems to be moving toward a larger percentage of “soft money” rather than trying to increase our “hard money” support (which is difficult, I understand that, but I think it will be necessary to recruit and retain good faculty). So an outside offer would likely help me get a raise, but would also cost me quite a bit from my research money, which I prefer to use to do research.

    My pessimism aside, I appreciate your thoughtful and practical suggestions here and will use them going forward!

  3. KGC Says:

    These are such great points and advice and I wish they applied to me! I’m an allied health professional working in research at Large Academic Medical Center and am embarrassingly underpaid (as are most employees at my university/hospital). In addition to just being underpaid (because I am ‘so lucky to work at Large Academic Medical Center’), I am underpaid compared to my allied health colleagues because clinical work is valued more than research, despite this being completely untrue in my field as a whole. I have lobbied for equity checks and bumps and have been told the only real path is to get a faculty appointment, which will then at least put me on an actual professional ladder with written requirements to move up. But, of course, it’s taken multiple years to get there and my CV and letter from the department are STILL stuck in review by some committee who doesn’t like non-PhD people getting a faculty appointment.

    (my allied health field has no doctorate but I already meet many qualifications for Associate Prof and even some for Full)

    I should just get an outside offer, as obviously that can help (and which you mention above). But then I have to be willing to take it if my Uni doesn’t buck up and that would mean a career shift, as my job (which I enjoy) is very niche and hard to do almost anywhere else…

    All that being said, I love the idea of listing accomplishments and justification for a bump in a visual manner or charts and whatnot. I may do this and take it to my boss (faculty who has way more clout) and see if he’ll argue on my behalf.

  4. Shannon Says:

    We’re unionized, so the procedures for an out of cycle pay increase are in our collective bargaining agreement. If someone is at a unionized campus, they should definitely ask around to determine how the process works at there as it likely works differently than what you describe here. Our process is highly structured, and it’s very difficult to get one of these raises – and that’s how the union wants it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      People at union schools likely are not paid out of synch with their colleagues!

      • AM Says:

        Sadly not true in my (very large) system. The incoming salary is set by the dean, then the union specifies percentage raises. This was very bad for me and a number of others- so bad that the President and provost ended up doing an across the board pay-band raise, to get the associates above the assistants, who were hired by a different (and more equitable) dean.

  5. Debbie M Says:

    When I was staff at a state university, I did look up people’s salaries. “The Texas Tribune” showed the “base” salaries and thus did not include longevity pay or benefits.

    I learned a few interesting things. Different departments and colleges paid wildly different salaries for the same job duties, mostly by using job titles with different salary ranges (typically you got paid at the bottom of a salary range as long as possible).

    One of my job duties was to liaise with people in different colleges who coded our degree audit system for their college’s degree requirements, and I compared their salaries. Those salaries had almost nothing to do with how good they were or how many degree plans they had to work with. Some of the best people were well-paid; some were at the bottom. What seemed to matter most was how rich the college was. And that’s why our fabulous workers in the College of Education never lasted very long.

    I also learned that degree audit duties were combined with other, often radically different duties, such that virtually no one would enjoy or be good at both. Working with the degree audit system is a data job, and it usually would be paired with a related people-person job (academic advisor), but sometimes with something just wacky like event planning, and occasionally with a programming or administrative job.

    My pay was pretty mediocre compared to their median pay. My main benefit was that everyone else in the Office of the Registrar feared and hated my job, so I never had to worry about being moved to some random other job by the terrible Registrar of my last years. [It was as if he’d decided that people with certain job titles were too well paid for their current jobs and should be moved into more important jobs (that they hated and never would have applied for).] And I hated all their jobs, so that was good.

    When I was a typist in a department I once noticed that professor pay was basically inversely proportionate to years of service. We simply could not hire new people at the old rates, so they got better pay. One of the older professors explained to me that this wasn’t quite as unfair as as it looked though–only two other people had applied for his position back when he was hired, and he said the new people actually were better than him. Mmm, maybe. He’s the only one who’s authored a book I own!

    As far as arguing for an equity increase, my university was all about the lying. Examples applied to me personally: 1) They can give only a certain maximum raise (the approved merit raise). Yet one year they gave me a bigger raise by including an “added duties” raise. 2) No raises are allowed the first six months in a new position. That was a straight-out lie that I didn’t fight because I was about to retire anyway. 3) I got a special, higher than average raise, but don’t tell anybody because they’ll feel bad. It turns out virtually everyone got that higher raise and the message about how special they were!

    And another lie that surprised me: Job postings have required qualifications and ideal qualifications and when you apply you must promise that you have all the required qualifications. Our last Registrar did not have one the of the required qualifications (a master’s degree) yet in order to apply, he had to sign a statement claiming that he did. They didn’t even bother re-writing the job description for him and starting over, they just picked him. So after that I just started applying for everything I thought I could do a good job with and enjoy.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’m currently up against the no new raises 6 months thing– my poor RA has to wait until December even though she is now an MA student instead of a BA student and more experienced than my other MA student. I could have fired her and rehired her at a higher rate, but that would have meant up to a month of her not working because bureaucracy is so irritating. So instead we wait and I feel guilty.

      • Debbie M Says:

        Bleh, stupid bureaucracy! Probably you’ve asked your Executive Assistant or whoever knows stuff if there’s a work-around. And maybe you can mention the unfairness to the Dean or Provost or whoever has power. Fighting the man gets so tiring, though. Like throwing your efforts into a black hole.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        The work-around is to fire and rehire! And since it was only 3 months I asked her to just wait. I have it in my planner to change as soon as it’s possible.

  6. omdg Says:

    I will tell you that at my state uni, my base salary is published, but the amount I make in after hours call and departmental performance incentive (tied to department case volume, not my personal performance) is NOT. This makes quite a large difference! Also, there are obviously other ways clinical faculty get rewarded, like in non-clinical time, access to resources like statisticians and project coordinators, etc. that may or may not be justly distributed.


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