(Somewhat) Family Friendlier

Significantly more colleges have policies to help employees maneuver work/life balance than they did in 2002, but many approaches are informal, study finds.
June 2, 2009

ATLANTA -- In case the half-filled glasses of water found throughout Louise August's PowerPoint presentation at this week's Association for Institutional Research annual forum didn't quite drive home the point, her survey of colleges' adoption of family friendly policies offered the ultimate in alternating good news and bad news.

Yes, colleges were significantly likelier by 2007 to have embraced some of a series of policies -- from stoppage of the tenure clock to paid dependent care to unpaid leave beyond that required by federal law -- than they were when the University of Michigan's Center for the Education of Women conducted a similar survey in 2002. The updated survey of more than 500 four-year colleges showed an upturn in all seven policies discussed -- positive progress, said August, a research associate at the Michigan center and lead author of the new study.

But the average four-year institution in the 2007 survey offers 1.9 of the 7 possible policies, up from 1.64 in 2002 -- "so while there's been progress, that's not so good, not good at all," August said in her presentation at the institutional researchers' conference here Monday. "Improvements, yes, but great coverage, not so much."

The most commonly offered policies are those that, at face value, cost institutions the least. Sixty-five percent of the colleges surveyed have formal, written policies that allow tenure track faculty members to "stop the clock" -- delaying their tenure bids without penalty -- while they care for children (typically) or sometimes other family members. (That's up from 48 percent in 2002.) Forty-four percent offer unpaid leave in excess of the 12 weeks required by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, up from 40 percent in 2002. (The latter policies may cost institutions in terms of hiring workers to replace those on leave.)

There's a big dropoff, though, in terms of the proportion of colleges offering family friendly benefits that hit them harder in the pocketbook -- like allowing faculty or staff members to reduce their duties for a semester or term without any reduction in pay (21 percent of colleges), or offering paid maternity or paternity leave or dependent care (18 percent).

While even fewer colleges and universities in the 2007 survey offered temporary part-time appointments to faculty members either to care for injured or ill children or spouses or to spend more time at home with young children, those that do "do it right," August said. Ninety-seven percent of the colleges that offered part-time appointments let the faculty members in question retain their tenure or tenure-track status, and let their academic departments retain the budget lines for when they return to full time status. About three quarters either stop the tenure clock or slow it proportionately, and most either retain the professors' full health care benefits or prorate their contributions.


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