More Than Half of Higher Education Employees Want to Quit. Here’s Why.

The Great Resignation left its mark on many industries. Especially hard hit were hospitality and manufacturing. At first, higher education didn’t seem as deeply affected. Now, things have changed.

When the unexpected turmoil of 2020 began, the transition from in-person to virtual learning made sense. There were challenges of course, but many educators were able to engage students via remote classes and shared virtual workspaces. Likewise, a large percentage of higher ed staff found a new rhythm in remote work.

As in-person learning came back, a staggering number of educators and higher ed employees were left unsettled. Now, the majority of the higher ed workforce (57%) is likely, very likely, or somewhat likely to look for new employment opportunities within the next year, according to the 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR). This number includes both faculty and staff.

Clearly, colleges and universities are at risk of losing more than half of their current employees. The study says these are the main issues:

  • Many higher education employees plan on quitting because they need a pay increase. About 75% of respondents said an increase in pay was their most common reason for seeking employment elsewhere. Other reasons for leaving include remote work opportunities, a more flexible schedule, a promotion, or more responsibility.
  • Higher ed institutions don’t provide the remote work opportunities employees want. About 71% of employees report that most of their duties can be performed remotely, and 69% would prefer to have at least a partially remote work arrangement. However, 63% currently work mostly or completely on-site.
  • Most higher ed employees work beyond full-time hours. About 67% of full-time staff typically work more hours each week than what is considered full-time. And 63% have taken on additional responsibilities due to colleagues who recently left. Ultimately, a whopping 73% have taken on additional responsibilities since 2020.
  • There are distinct areas of dissatisfaction among higher ed faculty and staff. While 81% of employees have a good relationship with their supervisor, and about 75% feel their work has purpose, the study also found that dissatisfaction increased in the following areas:
    • Fair pay
    • Parental leave policies
    • Recognition for contributions
    • Opportunities for advancement
    • Childcare discounts or subsidies
    • Investment in career development
    • Schedule flexibility and remote work policies

What student retention can teach us about educator retention

Within higher education, there’s a tremendous amount of discourse around student retention and persistence. While these conversations are undoubtedly important, industry leaders must also address similar issues within their own staff. For example, even on-campus mental health counselors continue to face hiring challenges and burnout. Without these services, students and staff alike will struggle even more deeply. The ripple effect goes far.

How do we retain higher education faculty and staff?

To begin, higher ed leaders can look to what’s working for student retention and persistence. According to a Jenzabar survey of deans, presidents, provosts, and other institutional leaders, enrollment and accessibility issues are being addressed in several ways, including:

    1. Flexible education options
    2. More hands-on, skills-based workforce training


It’s relatively simple to make the connection between these student-focused solutions and educator retention. Most notably, a lack of flexibility is a driving force behind higher ed’s Great Resignation. Employees who can work remotely expect to have the opportunity to do so – at least part of the time. While solely virtual classes do exist, many in-person courses have an all-or-nothing approach in which every lecture must be taught in person.

The CUPA-HR study also points out that flexibility goes beyond remote classes. It also means reducing the number of hours in a full-time work week or allowing employees to work a half-day on Fridays. Ultimately, it’s up to leaders to ask employees what kind of flexibility they need.

While the idea of more flexibility is simple, it’s not always easy to execute. Industry leaders will be forced to weigh the importance of employee retention against the importance of on-campus attendance. Where should there be compromise? Will there be trial periods to gauge increased retention and employee satisfaction? What else have we learned about student retention that will help us with educator retention?

To answer the last question requires a willingness to face what’s worked (and what hasn’t) to retain college and university students. Take skills-based training, for example. Many institutions have attempted to increase course offerings for high-demand fields. The idea here is to help solve the issue that not enough college graduates are prepared for the “modern workforce.”

Educators need more skills-based training too. Not just for career advancement, but also to help them navigate the new landscape of higher education. Between educator burnout and turnover, there’s a clear need to shake things up.

In the next blog post, we’ll go over some specific strategies higher ed leaders can use to retain faculty and staff. In the meantime, you may find these blog posts interesting:

More Than Half of Higher Education Employees Want to Quit. Here’s Why.

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