Proposed rule changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are generating significant concern on college and university campuses across America, including mine. The U.S. Department of Labor recently sent those changes, which would raise the salary threshold for those employees who are guaranteed overtime pay from $23,660 to $50,440, to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for final review. If approved, they will have deleterious and perhaps even dire effects not only on higher education institutions but many of their employees as well.
As president of Thomas More College, a small faith-based college in Kentucky, I worry that the changes would take a grave toll on institutions like mine that are enrollment and tuition driven. They could also significantly limit opportunities for young people in our society to receive entry-level positions at our colleges and universities.
I understand the reasoning for the proposed changes and, in fact, I would love to be able to pay our employees more money. But this proposal is just too drastic in such a short period of time, and our institution simply can’t afford it.
I received my start as a volunteer football coach for my alma mater, Mercyhurst University, after receiving my law degree. I chose to forgo a lucrative legal career to pursue my passion of making a difference in the lives of young men in their formative years. My $20,000 salary during this time came from academic advising and work in residence life. From this position, I moved into different roles in student life, academic advising, recruiting and fund-raising. Those positions led me to my present post of college president at a college very similar to my alma mater. Because of that first job as a coach -- albeit at a low salary -- I was able to launch my career in higher education.
Yet the proposed changes would nullify such opportunities for thousands of people just starting out by essentially removing entry-level positions that recent college graduates rely on. With beginning base salaries of $50,440, employers nationwide, including colleges and universities, would have to hire workers with previous experience and a greater knowledge of the position than a first-time job applicant. In addition to the removal of entry-level positions, midrange positions would need salary adjustments as well, so that employees at that career level are not making less than those previously considered to be entry level. Such salary adjustments across the board would significantly pressure the budgets of virtually every academic institution.
I know firsthand that one department will be greatly affected: the athletics department. Colleges like mine do not have athletics simply because we enjoy them; we have them because they drive enrollment and are therefore necessary for our survival. Despite public belief that coaches of intercollegiate athletic teams earn huge salaries, most coaches are modestly compensated for jobs that often include weekends and nights. Coaches know this going into the position -- they accept relatively low salaries because they have an immense passion for the game and desire to mold student-athletes. Their passion for the sport and for the growth of students allows athletic programs to survive and thrive. The proposed changes would result in tough decisions having to be made, including the potential cutting of small-roster sports and other administrative positions within the department.
Various colleges and universities have already begun looking at the potential impacts the FLSA rule changes could have specifically on them. The state university system of Florida has concluded that the proposal will affect 6,500 workers to the tune of $62 million in increased budget expenditures. Indiana University similarly has found that budget increases would be upward of $15 million annually. Recently, while speaking at a conference with a human resources administrator at a large research institution, I learned that university leaders there have forecast an annual budgetary increase of $19 million.
These numbers are substantially larger than ours: we project our budget would increase by $1.4 million each year. But, given that is more than a 12 percent annual increase, the relative impact on our small college would be much more severe. An increase of that magnitude could potentially have catastrophic effects on us and other small institutions nationwide.
The basic fact is that colleges, especially small, enrollment-based institutions, will not be able to absorb the extremely large additional costs associated with the current proposal. It is thus crucial that the federal government consider reasonableness and time in developing the final rule. A more modest salary adjustment makes much more sense if colleges are to avoid untenable budget pressures and, in some cases, even financial collapse. A proverb elucidates this concept, saying, “It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward.”
The proposals of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources and 18 other higher education groups that called for an increase to either $29,172 or $30,004 are much more realistic and reasonable. We need to raise salaries incrementally and in a way that is financially manageable rather than saddle colleges with a hike so high that they are destined to fail.
David A. Armstrong is president of Thomas More College in Kentucky.
The University of Akron has had a series of controversies in the last year over spending priorities, management decisions and more. Now the university is fighting with its local newspaper, The Akron Beacon-Journal, which reported last week that spring semester enrollment was down 3.2 percent from a year ago. The day that story appeared, the university sent an email message to 3,500 people denouncing the newspaper for publishing “inaccurate, misleading and apparently relied on out-of-date information.” A new article in the newspaper said that new data had in fact been released the day the first article appeared and that the new data were not shared with the newspaper prior to its first article appeared. The new data, the newspaper reported, suggest serious enrollment challenges for Akron that weren't evident from the prior data. At this time a year ago, 2,464 students had confirmed they would attend in the fall. This year, 1,658 have done so.
Nonprofit Zenith Education Group is consolidating or closing 10 more campuses of the former Corinthian Colleges. The chain lost $100 million last year and is making changes to its business model, curriculum and leadership.
New North Carolina law requires public colleges to segregate bathrooms by biological birth gender, forcing transgender students and faculty members to use facilities that don't reflect their identities. UPDATE: Three university employees sue.
The University of California at Berkeley on Thursday vowed to improve prevention efforts and responses to allegations of sexual assault and sex harassment. The announcement follows a series of incidents in which the university has been accused of ignoring longstanding harassment issues or of issuing light sanctions for serious violations of policy. "We have an obligation to promote a campus culture in which sexual harassment, sexual violence, stalking and any abuse of power are neither tolerated nor ignored, but proactively prevented," said an email to the campus from Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor, and Claude Steele, the executive vice chancellor and provost.
Hunter R. Rawlings III (right), who is about to step down as president of the Association of American Universities, will next month become interim president of Cornell University. Rawlings will serve while Cornell's board conducts a search for a replacement to Elizabeth Garrett, who died of colon cancer March 6, less than a year into her tenure as president. Rawlings knows the Cornell presidency well. He served as president from 1995 to 2003, and then as interim in 2005-6.
The federal government will spend roughly $22 billion on the Pell Grant program in 2016, according to new numbers from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. The more than $7 billion projected surplus in the $30 billion program follows several years of declines in spending on Pell Grants, due to previous changes in eligibility for students.
As a result of the surplus, The Washington Post reported, more support may follow for restoring year-round access to Pell, meaning students can once again use the grants for summer courses. The elimination of that eligibility is one of the budget-related changes to the program during the Obama administration, which the White House recently has sought to reverse.
"Some have argued that Pell costs are unsustainable, but the CBO estimates show that the program has enough funding to restore year-round Pell, a policy with bipartisan support that incents completion and reduces college costs for low-income students," José Luis Santos, vice president for higher education policy and practice at the Education Trust, said in a statement. “Congress has the opportunity to preserve and strengthen this vital resource. We look forward to working with lawmakers to make this a reality.”
Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego did not mislead a graduate who said the institution made false promises about her career prospects, a jury found Thursday. Former student Anna Alaburda claimed that the college used inflated job placement data -- mainly by including part-time and nonlegal work obtained by graduates -- to lure her to the school, according to the Associated Press. She claimed that she was owed $125,000 in damages to make up for the fact that she’s been unable to find a full-time job as a lawyer, despite having graduated near the top of her class in 2008. Alaburda also pointed to the fact that she has $170,000 in student debt, but the Superior Court jury rejected her arguments, 9 to 3.
Law school graduates from various campuses have made similar claims to Alaburda’s in recent years, and some have received settlements as a result, but her case is believed to be the first to go to trial, according to the Associated Press. Michael Sullivan, a lawyer for Thomas Jefferson, reportedly acknowledged "isolated mistakes" and "clerical errors" in the data, but said there was no evidence that the school lied. The American Bar Association has since required more transparency in reporting jobs data.
The University of South Florida has placed Samuel Bradley on leave as director of its communications school after learning that he was demoted from a previous job over three affairs with students, The Tampa Bay Tribune reported. The university said it was not aware of the findings against Bradley at his former institution, Texas Tech University, and only learned of the situation this week. Texas Tech's investigation found that one student with whom Bradley had an affair was hospitalized for emotional distress, another delayed graduation, and that Bradley’s wife damaged the windshield of a car driven by one of his students. Bradley did not respond to requests for comment.