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Studying Salaries

SFCC starts compensation study to respond to faculty pay concerns

SFCC administrators say they are embarking on a salary study to address faculty wage concerns. (Peter Sills)

More than three months after nearly a dozen faculty members at the Santa Fe Community College voiced concerns about their wages during a SFCC Governing Board meeting, the college has begun a compensation study.

“This is something we’ve known we needed to do,” SFCC President Becky Rowley tells SFR. “It’s a lengthy process, but we want to do it right, be as thorough as we possibly can and get the best data that we can. My pledge is to be as aggressive as we can be in meeting what the salary study reflects.”

Faculty pay in higher education also emerged during the most recent legislative session; House Memorial 32 died in committee, but would have tasked the Higher Education Department with conducting a compensation study for all higher-ed full-time and temporary instructional staff.

Rowley, who first joined SFCC as president in July 2019, notes the college also began a compensation study that year, but quickly halted the process because “it was deeply flawed” in how it compared SFCC salaries to the salaries of similar jobs in the region.

“We’ve been planning to get it going again, but being able to do this well hinges on having a really good chief human resources officer, and we have sort of struggled over time until we got Donna [Castro],” she says. “We are always concerned about salaries, because jobs in higher education are often paid lower than their peers in other fields.”

Kate McCahill, an associate professor of English and the chair of the English and Communications Department, has worked for SFCC for more than a decade and describes her initial response to the compensation study as “wary,” due to the halted 2019 study.

She also describes an incident in 2022 in which SFCC’s union discovered a mistake in the pay matrix that affected employees in her pay category and led approximately $1,300 in underpayment per year. An email from the union confirms the union negotiated with the college and fixed the mistake, but were unsuccessful in negotiating for the affected faculty to be compensated for the lost wages.

“I’ve seen high turnover both in my department and across the college,” McCahill tells SFR. “We lose so many good folks, whether it’s at the interview stage when we share with them what their salary is or a couple of semesters in, when reality hits.”

In the upcoming school year, the starting salary for full-time faculty with a bachelor’s degree will be $50,879 per year—about a 3% increase from last year’s starting salary.

In addition to the wage increase, Lenny Gannes, president of the union representing full-time faculty, reports the union successfully negotiated “retention awards” for full-time faculty, which amount to $300 for each year they have taught at SFCC. For example, a faculty member with six years at SFCC would earn $1,800 on top of their salary just this year.

According to the MIT Living wage Calculator, one childless adult in Santa Fe County needs to earn about $48,589 per year.

McCahill has two children and says her “outlook on my role changed drastically when I had kids, because it’s a doable job if you have no one to support but yourself. But as soon as you have other responsibilities? I believe my professional opportunities have taken a hit. Affording childcare is prohibitive, and I think that’s something that a lot of faculty face.”

McCahill also notes many faculty members work second jobs to supplement their incomes. One such faculty member is sj Miller, a professor of teacher education who also works two adjuncting gigs and does consulting in addition to being a full-time faculty member.

“I pretty much work nonstop,” Miller tells SFR. “I’m stretched thin as it is. If I had one salary, I wouldn’t be. Ultimately, what’s not fair for my students is that while I put everything I can into my job, I also get burnt out working that much.”

Previously, Miller claims earning nearly $150,000 per year working for New York University, but decided to move back to Santa Fe to teach students in the community college’s Alternative Teaching Licensure program for K-12 teachers. Miller’s students often make approximately $50,000 teaching in those classrooms, which Miller reports making “barely over” as a professionally tenured professor with a PhD at SFCC.

“It’s demoralizing. It makes you feel under-appreciated,” Miller says. “I wanted to be home, and I wanted to be of service to this community and state through teacher development. It was a choice, but ultimately, I just wanted the freedom to be in my state and make a difference.”

Another class of employees who struggle with wages is the college’s adjunct faculty—temporary employees who are paid by the number of credit hours they teach in lectures, labs and studios. They also make up the majority of professors at the college.

Stephanie Amedeo Marquez, an adjunct professor who has taught social sciences since 2019 after retiring from Northern New Mexico College, says she earns about $2,200 for each three credit-hour class she teaches for the entire semester. Last semester, she earned $4,400 in 16 weeks for teaching two such classes.

Typically, SFCC assigns adjunct professors a class to prepare before a semester begins, but if not enough students are enrolled, the class is dropped.

“You’re not paid, and you don’t have a job that semester,” Amedeo Marquez tells SFR.

Amedeo Marquez says she has not personally experienced this, as administrators in her department typically try to fit adjunct professors into other classes to prevent them from losing work.

Castro, the school’s chief human resources officer, says SFCC’s study—to be conducted by Bolton Partners—will look at “the total package” when it comes to employee pay. Throughout June, Bolton Partners will meet with non-teaching staff, and the non-teaching staff study should take about 17 weeks to complete, according to Castro. Faculty will be interviewed when they return for the fall semester in August, and after those results are complete, Bolton partners will make recommendations for changing compensation.

“Typically, with a salary study, institutions cannot implement 100 percent of the recommendation on year one. It depends on the results and what the cost of that is,” Castro explains. “We want to retain our employees, and we want them to feel they are being compensated appropriately.”

Chief Strategies Officer Yash Morimoto says he doesn’t expect “a universal need” to increase every staff and faculty member’s pay to emerge from the compensation study, and instead anticipates specific specialties will likely be targeted.

“There’s certain fields—like nursing, for example—that it’s difficult for us to compete at the same level, but there’s other jobs at SFCC we think are probably appropriate,” Morimoto says. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do a salary study: to figure out which of the jobs are lower compared to our peers, our local market.”

Rowley notes the community college has “always struggled with pay,” and that she finds it unlikely the college will be able to “totally change the whole scale” for faculty and staff pay. However, she emphasizes that faculty and staff members have been involved in the process of hiring the firm, and that a committee of them selected Bolton Partners for the study.

“It’s really important for all of us that there’s buy-in for who we choose, and that way, we get to ask questions and things like that and feel like we’ve really selected the best vendor for us,” she says.

In a statement, Miller, who is chair of the SFCC Faculty Senate, expresses hope that once the study is complete, the college sets a new base salary and removes the set matrix that locks faculty and staff into a certain amount of money depending on union negotiations.

“We hope, ultimately, that people are paid equitably to what peer institutions are making, if not a little bit more, just because we’ve been behind for so long, these people have gone into debt to teach,” Miller says.

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