New Way to Attract and Retain Employees

We old time Admissions folk often wear it as a badge of honor, “Back in the 80’s we got paid around $18,000 and once worked 27 straight days without overtime or comp time. Had to drive our own cars and couldn’t stay in a hotel fancier than a Motel 6. Our per diem bought us a glazed donut, Big Mac with small fries, and two slices of pizza. Always felt lucky just to have a job.”

Never mind that we WERE lucky to have a job. Beyond a good handshake, friendly smile, and the ability to relate to students and parents, we didn’t have much for employable skills. And the job market was tight.

The lens through which I see my world runs through the Admissions Office; however, for what follows feel free to apply your own lens whether it is within higher education or not. The issues raised here are not limited to one office or even one industry. 

If we hold those old attitudes today, we will soon find ourselves running an empty office. Why? Let’s start with the easy one—salary. If you are paying your entry-level recruiter $30,000/year, that is the equivalent of $14.42/hour. On the way to work today, I saw that the local convenience store is paying $16.  Let’s say you’re ahead of the game and paying $40,000, or $19.23/hour. My local packing plant pays more for the day shifters removing turkey heads, feet, and feathers.

But we have great benefits. Really? What do the employees have to contribute to their health insurance premiums? Have you had to reduce the employer contribution to their retirement accounts and for what you pay can they afford to contribute to it themselves? How long do they have to work before they get two or three weeks of vacation? Working weekends and evenings isn’t considered a part of the benefits package anymore.

But they can get a free master’s degree. That’s true. They can gain marketable skills and leave your employ just as soon as the ink is dry on that diploma. How is that working for you? Or have you already capitulated and said, “That’s the way it’s always been and always will be.”

For better or worse, this generation of college graduates looks at the world differently than we gray hairs. They value a work/life balance; no, they demand it. They tend to be much more interested in social justice, a burning planet, and making the world a better place. They must be valued instead of treated like disposables. If they can’t quickly advance in your organization, they’ll use a variety of employers as steppingstones. How are you supporting these needs among your employees?

But higher education is this bucolic place that is so much better than the cutthroat environment that defines cooperate America. Non-profits can’t compete with the deep pockets of the money changers. We must rely on our employees’ altruistic natures. I hate to tell you that altruism doesn’t put Ramen in the cupboards.

What to do?

Here are some ideas that some will call radical and others mandatory (please read all the way to the bottom). Of course, work with your HR Office and any union leadership to ensure all employees are treated equitably:

  • Your starting salary has to be competitive. Benchmark the area for the average starting salaries of newly minted college graduates and match it. Okay, you can exclude the engineering majors from your dataset.
  • With clear expectations and instructions defined from the beginning, give them a raise and title change within the first year; at six months would be better. I don’t mean a symbolic raise; instead, a real one, like $5000. Lay out your five-year plan for them during the interview process.
  • Promote and raise them again before the end of years two, three, four, and five. Yes, that’s expensive (keep reading to the end), but my premise is that I’d rather have an office full of five-year veterans at whatever the price than an office full of inexperienced people who couldn’t find a job elsewhere. I propose that they’ll more than pay for themselves. If they aren’t, move them along to the for-profit sector to learn their lessons.
  • If they complete a Master’s degree, give them a bump in salary just for that. You must recognize their achievements.
  • Give them paid time off each month to volunteer, participate in community functions, or whatever makes them happy.
  • When they get married, allow them to honeymoon for a week without tapping their vacation days; if they have a baby, pay them for two or more weeks while they are home; when tragedy strikes be the first to console and support. Show them that you care.
  • Benchmark average benefits in your area and be competitive.

In short, if you aren’t the employer of choice for your region, that’s where you will find all the good employees.

I can see you right now. We can’t afford this (while you take your blood pressure pill). Our Admissions Office will be making more than the English professors (while you take your red pen to correct all the grammatical mistakes in the latest viewbook). This generation just needs to toughen up and pay their dues like we did (while you post another job opening on InsideHigherEd).

Thanks for reading until the end. No, I don’t think this should be done JUST for Admissions. It has to happen across campus. The alternative is death by employee attrition. Have you ever had a tougher time filling open positions? You might not be able to afford to have the same number of employees that you do today, but you cannot afford to ignore this anymore.If you can’t hire the requisite number of housekeepers to maintain your campus, give us a call.

If you’re unsure what programs to reduce or eliminate or what programs to add or enhance, give us a call. If you want to survive in these challenging times, give us a call. We’ve been there, we can help. You’ll find more about us at

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