- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2003

RICHMOND — Virginia needs to spend only an additional $18.7 million to raise its college faculty salaries to the 60th percentile of their peers in the region, according to a study by a nonprofit research group.

That amount is a fraction of the $136.8 million that the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has said would be required to meet the state’s goal of raising professors’ pay to the 60th percentile nationally by 2006.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy said it limited the bulk of its study to a region from Pennsylvania to Georgia because professors are more likely to leave for higher paying jobs in the region, or even in state, than to move across country. The scope was expanded nationally for four major research universities: Old Dominion, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth and the University of Virginia.

The organization also adjusted salaries based on the localities’ cost of living in an attempt to more accurately assess professors’ purchasing power.

“A Coke in Blacksburg costs less than a Coke in Boston, so we wanted to take a look at what the value of that dollar is just as a business does when it has competitive salary issues,” said Mike Thompson, executive director of the institute.

Phyllis Palmiero, executive director of SCHEV, said she had no quarrel with the study’s methodology, although she also said she has no trouble defending what SCHEV has done.

“It’s just another way of looking at it,” she said.

She said one reason for the different conclusions is that the institute’s study included private endowments that supplement state salaries. SCHEV is prohibited from taking private money into consideration, Miss Palmiero said.

The institute’s study also did not include college instructors, who make up about 10 percent of the college teaching force, and the Virginia Community College System, she said.

The state has long aimed for the 60th percentile, meaning the average faculty salary at a Virginia public college would be higher than the salaries at about 60 percent of similar colleges nationwide. Virginia reached the goal for the 1998-2000 biennium, according to SCHEV, but then fell behind as the state’s budget woes forced professors to go three years without a raise.

Miss Palmiero said Virginia faculty salaries now average at the 34th percentile.

Mr. Thompson said the lists of peer institutions used by the institute and SCHEV in their studies are different. SCHEV has its own list while the institute used groupings developed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

“It seems fair and less questionable to use an independent group like Carnegie,” Mr. Thompson said.

The study found that Virginia’s public colleges varied widely in terms of competitive salaries. The College of William & Mary, Christopher Newport University, Virginia Military Institute and Virginia Tech paid professors at every level above the 60th percentile, the study found. Funds needed to raise others to the 60th percentile ranged from $85,030 at Longwood University to $5.5 million at George Mason University.

The Thomas Jefferson Institute, based in Springfield, is a nonpartisan organization based on the philosophy of limited government, free enterprise and individual responsibility.

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