• August 31, 2015

97 Colleges Are Recognized as Great Colleges to Work For in Chronicle Survey

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The results of The Chronicle of Higher Education's third annual Great Colleges to Work For survey, published today, capture some of America's most valued institutions at some of their most challenging moments. About 43,000 people at 275 campuses responded to the survey. It found that colleges continue to do well at creating work that makes a difference, providing jobs that fit the individual, and fostering a high degree of institutional pride. But now colleges are accomplishing those things in an economy that has been in a long slump, and tight budgets seem to be eroding confidence in college leadership, the survey found.

The 97 colleges whose employee ratings and institutional policies won them recognition as great places to work this year appear to know that. "With the economy going through difficulty and concerns about enrollment, our senior leadership was really upfront about communicating the consequences and the plans that were being considered," said Jeffrey Knapp, assistant vice president for human resources at the College of Saint Rose, in New York, one of the top-rated institutions.

Indeed, communication seems to be a major factor that distinguishes colleges on the Great Colleges to Work For Honor Roll, those that are rated as excellent across several categories of the workplace. The percentage of employees who agreed with the statement "Senior leadership communicates openly about important matters" was about 67 percent at large Honor Roll institutions and 77 percent at small ones; the comparable figures for all other colleges were about 54 percent and 56 percent.

This year's survey is The Chronicle's biggest yet. The 275 colleges that participated reflects an increase from the 89 that did in our first survey, in 2008. Four-year colleges and universities accounted for 221 of the institutions, and two-year colleges for 54. For the survey, faculty and staff members, and administrators were given 60 statements and asked to respond to them using a five-point scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." They were also asked to rate their satisfaction with 18 workplace benefits. 

 Their answers help form 12 Great College recognition categories, such as collaborative governance, and compensation and benefits. High ratings in those categories are regarded as the core attributes of a great academic workplace.

Colleges were placed in one of three size groups—small, medium, or large—based on overall student enrollment. Recognition in each Great College category was given to the 10 highest-scoring institutions in each size group for four-year colleges, and to the three highest-scoring institutions in each of those size groups for two-year colleges. (We don't rank the institutions but list them alphabetically. Read an explanation of our methodology here.) Campuses as diverse as Duke University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Valley Forge Christian College were recognized in at least one category.

The 30 four-year and nine two-year colleges on the Honor Roll were cited in the most categories in their size divisions.

Approximately 20,000 of the college employees who responded to the survey were faculty members, more than 14,800 were professional staff members, and 8,100 were administrators. (The survey was sent to more than 100,000 people.) It was administered by ModernThink LLC, a human-resources-consulting firm in Wilmington, Del. The survey instrument is based on an assessment that has been used in 55 Best Places to Work programs involving more than 4,000 organizations. A panel of higher-education experts helped customize the survey to reflect issues unique to colleges.

Over all, the survey results indicate that people like very much to work in higher education. Some of the highest-scoring statements in the entire survey were items such as "I have a good relationship with my supervisor/department chair," "I am given the responsibility and freedom to do my job," and "I am proud to be part of this institution."

The benefits of working at a college were also praised by survey participants. Five items—vacation time, retirement plans, medical insurance, tuition reimbursement for employees, and life insurance—were all rated highly by respondents.

Kathryn Neff, human-resources director at Mineral Area College, which was recognized in four workplace categories including work/life balance, said that "all of our supervisors are flexible with folks that are trying to schedule vacation time. You just don't hear folks say I'm struggling to get my vacation approved."

Darin Jones, human-resource director at Westminster College, in Utah, which was recognized in the category of compensation and benefits, says his institution is aware of how much employees value those features. "Over the past couple of years, Westminster has remained committed to providing excellent benefits and pay increases to our faculty and staff," he said. "Especially in these challenging economic times, when many schools are cutting budgets and enacting furloughs," maintaining benefits becomes extremely important, he said.

Waning Trust in Leadership

Indeed, at many colleges, the lingering effects of the recession have forced budget cuts that continue to affect employees. Salaries have been trimmed, people have been laid off or told to take unpaid furloughs, and hiring has been frozen at many colleges and universities.

All of this has contributed to an atmosphere of some uncertainty. In the survey, one key statement was "Senior leadership shows a genuine interest in the well-being of faculty, administration, and staff." The percentage of positive responses to that statement in 2010 was lower than in 2009, dropping to 63 percent from nearly 67 percent.

For administrators, the drop was to 72 percent from about 75 percent. For faculty members, positive responses dropped to 59 percent from 62 percent, and for staff members, they dropped to 63 percent from 67 percent.

Other statements, having to do with maintaining a work/life balance, received some of the lowest average scores in the survey, perhaps indicating the stress of increased workloads, said Richard K. Boyer, a principal and managing partner of ModernThink.

However, the generally positive responses about job satisfaction and pride in the workplace indicate that many colleges are continuing to find ways to make employees happy, said Mr. Boyer, even if they can't offer large raises. Positive responses to statements about job satisfaction, he noted, were above 88 percent, in any age category or by gender. "Sometimes programs focusing on career growth can show that the institution is strongly committed to employee welfare," he said.

Widener University was one of the colleges recognized for the professional and career-development category. Stephen W. Thorpe, the university's director of institutional research, said those programs are a way for Widener to attract and retain the most talented people, a top university goal. "Part of our strategic plan is to be an employer of first choice," he said.

Ilana Kowarski contributed to this article.


1. maestrho - July 26, 2010 at 07:09 am

I'm curious - were there any HBCUs included in the survey? After reviewing the results via the hyperlink I didn't notice any listed.

2. myemotan - July 26, 2010 at 07:52 am

Comment #1 writer should have first asked for the survey method (which appears in this same issue of TCOHE):

"July 25, 2010
Great Colleges to Work For 2010: How the Survey Was Conducted

This year The Chronicle of Higher Education's Great Colleges to Work For survey is based on responses from more than 43,000 people, at 275 institutions. Four-year colleges and universities accounted for 221 of the institutions, and two-year colleges for 54.

Approximately 20,000 of the people responding were faculty members, more than 14,800 were professional staff members, and 8,100 were administrators. The survey was sent to more than 100,000 people, with an overall response rate of 45 percent. The assessment was administered by ModernThink LLC, a human-resources-consulting firm based in Wilmington, Del. Its survey instrument is based on an assessment that has been used in 55 Best Places to Work programs involving more than 4,000 organizations. A panel of higher-education experts has helped to customize the survey to reflect issues unique to colleges.

In the Great Colleges program, each institution was asked to submit a list of full-time employees randomly selected across three categories: administration, faculty, and exempt professional staff. Adjunct faculty members were included for two-year colleges. The sample size, up to either 400 or 600, was based on the number of employees in those categories. Institutions with fewer than 400 people in a category were invited to survey the entire employee population.

The assessment process had two components: a questionnaire about institutional characteristics, and a faculty/staff questionnaire about individuals' evaluations of their institutions. The assessment also included an analysis of demographic data and workplace policies at each participating college or university. The questionnaires were administered online in March and April of this year.

Survey respondents were asked to address 60 statements using a five-point scale, ranging from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." They were also asked to rate their satisfaction with 18 benefits, respond to two open-ended questions, and answer 15 demographic questions.

The faculty/staff survey statements are categorized into 12 dimensions, each one forming a Great College recognition category, such as collaborative governance or compensation and benefits.

For analysis, we divided the applicant pool into two classifications; four-year institutions and two-year institutions. Within each of these classifications, there were three groups, based on total undergraduate and graduate enrollment: small (2,999 or fewer students), medium (3,000 to 9,999), and large (more than 10,000). Recognition in a particular Great College category was given to the 10 highest-scoring institutions in each size for four-year colleges, and the three highest-scoring institutions in each size for two-year colleges.

Honor Roll recognition, for four-year colleges, was given to the 10 institutions in each size that were cited most often across all of the recognition categories. For two-year colleges, Honor Roll recognition was given to the three institutions that were cited most often in each size category." (Dr. Okhamafe)

3. bbrodigan - July 26, 2010 at 09:05 am

This is another attempt to 'rank' colleges, but only a very small number of colleges participate in the survey.

4. annon1234 - July 26, 2010 at 09:31 am


I got a copy of the survey and I work at an HBCU. Never in gabillion years would I rank this as a good place to work. The racism that exists here, the reverse discrimination, the blatant violation good HR practices, low pay, under prepared students with little administrative support to do anything about it (either support them to get them up to speed or flunk them out), etc. all make this a terrible place to work. The entitlement attitudes are pretty bad here too. Like anywhere else there are good people too, but the ratio of nasty to nice is way out of whack. And no, I am not white.

5. 11154046 - July 26, 2010 at 10:01 am

There are two State University of New York institutions of higher education in Buffalo, NY. The State University at Buffalo (buffalo.edu) - listed in your top college list - is not a four year college, it is a university center. The SUNY 4 year college in Buffalo is the State University College at Buffalo (buffalostate.edu).

6. maestrho - July 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

Regarding myemotan ... yeah, I read that already and it failed to provide the requested information hence the need to pose the question. Thanks for taking the time to cut and paste that, though. Do you happen to know where I can find what I was actually looking for???

Regarding annon1234 - trust me, I understand and your response is not the least bit shocking regardless of race. I taught at two HBCUs, am also not white, and share much of your sentiment!

7. jamccain - July 26, 2010 at 10:30 am

maestrho I am also curious that there were no HBCUs listed. I am a student at an HBCU and it's a great college. There are wonderful and "competent" professors there, administrative support is great, and there is a high success rate of program completion for students. Most students that I know of who graduate from NCAT go on to find great jobs and lead productive lives and are very active in their community. And I never hear the staff and faculty complaining about their place of employment. Personally, I would rate North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, NC to be a great college to work for. But Mastroho, "the majority" do not even recognize or value HBCUs as credible educational institutions. It is sad but true. So when it comes to acknowledging an HBCU in any category, we will not see an HBCU on the "Best Colleges" list.

8. 11191947 - July 26, 2010 at 11:31 am

The participating colleges and universities had to volunteer to participate. Our university volunteered but didn't make the top list. Unlike other rating systems, only the top rated are listed, not the bottom rated.

9. pccasa - July 26, 2010 at 02:34 pm

I'm disappointed that OR wasn't recognized at all (and WA was recognized for only one of its MANY fine institutions). Portland's home to one of the largest institutions of higher education in the nation-- we're a close-knit family, despite the fact that the College hosts well over 3,000 employees. Sure, we're all coping with budget cuts, but the environment is ten times more agreeable than two of the four-year institutions with which I've worked (and are featured in this survey).

10. stevenkass - July 26, 2010 at 11:29 pm

The Chronicle's own Facts and Figures give data on thousands of schools (over 3,000 for tuition; over 800 for endowments). Only 275 colleges chose to participate in the Great Colleges to Work For survey. This fact alone - that the survey included only a small fraction of institutions - is sufficient to dismiss the survey's value. (And the full list of schools surveyed isn't to be found, so for the "winners," there's no answer to the important statistical question "compared to whom?".)

If that isn't enough, consider that, at least for small institutions, the always-important random sampling of individuals was left up the institutions themselves.

If the Chronicle doesn't have the resources or statistical knowhow to perform a credible survey (and that seems to be the case), it should leave the job to organizations that do.

11. qualityandplan - July 27, 2010 at 11:21 am

another fun but ultimately silly and pointless ranking...

12. teacherspaddle - July 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm

They should instead title this survey "random colleges where many employees claim job satisfaction."

That information is not meaningless; if I was considering a job offer from one of these institutions, it would matter to me that many of its employees found it a good place to work.

Just don't assume an institution not on this list is not a good place, or that adjuncts who work at one of these notable institutions share the satisfaction of their fellow employees.

(on a side note, I wish they specified % of responding faculty that were adjuncts)

13. jselingo - July 27, 2010 at 03:40 pm

We never claim this is a random national sample. Colleges have to choose to participate. So only the ones that feel somewhat confident in their results throw their hat into the ring. As a result, we don't say this list is "the best" workplaces nor do we rank the colleges. The point is to simply give more information about academic workplaces.

In addition, many other workplace surveys are operated in the same way. For example, Fortune magazine's popular survey, which names the 100 "best" companies, only has 400 or so participatants out of a universe that is much larger than academe. And Fortune doesn't name the companies that fail to make the list.

We're always looking for ways to improve this survey and have so in the past two years based on reader feedback. Please send me a direct message at jeff.selingo@chronicle.com

Jeff Selingo

The percentages of positive responses were fairly high because the study was not a random national sample but instead was conducted only at institutions that felt confident enough in the quality of their workplaces to participate in the Great Colleges to Work For survey.

14. jaymae - July 27, 2010 at 06:02 pm

...And the list of the worst institutions polled is posted where?

15. stevenkass - July 27, 2010 at 06:10 pm


The number of times you use the word "best" belies the claim that you don't characterize the results this way.

At http://chronicle.com/section/Great-Colleges/156, you describe the Great Colleges report: "Our third annual guide to U.S. colleges as workplaces lists the best schools in 12 categories of key importance to employees." So yes, you do say "the best."

Even if you hadn't said "the best" (which you do), you should know how survey results like these are going to be reported. If you aren't aware of the way the press works, you should be (or you shouldn't release information to the press). Regardless of your intent not to promote the results as meaning "best," I've provided some of today's headlines that use the word "best" below. They shouldn't surprise anyone. Even some "winning" colleges are using the word "best."

In addition to the fact that you describe the report on chronicle.com by saying that "it lists the best schools...," here are a couple things from chroniclegreatcolleges.com (the Chronicle's site for the Great Colleges program) that help foster the misunderstanding:

"Loosely based on the popular Fortune magazine list, 100 Best Companies to Work For..." (http://chroniclegreatcolleges.com/content/view/29/64/, where the word "best" appears six times.)

You feature the misunderstanding in the first testimonial you post at (http://chroniclegreatcolleges.com/content/view/20/54/): "...our recognition in the Best Colleges competition."

Selected headlines in today's news:

"York College named one of the best colleges in which to work" (York Daily Record)

"The BEST Colleges To Work For: Chronicle Of Higher Education Report" (Huffington Post)

"Manchester College named was of the best colleges to work" (WANE)

"University of Michigan makes list of best college workplaces" (AnnArbor.com)

"Wake Tech, Duke among best to work for, Chronicle of Higher Education says" (Triangle Business Journal)

"The best DC-area colleges to work for" (Washington Post blog)

16. jfischman - July 27, 2010 at 07:19 pm

Yes, we do use the word "best" when talking about best practices or the best (or highest) ratings in a particular category. We try and be very clear that the characterizations of best and highest refer to the institutions surveyed, and not every college and university on the planet.

If there are ways we can be more clear, I would like to learn about them. Similarly, I would like to learn about ways readers think we might increase college participation in the survey. And additional measures we might use. So I look forward to constructive suggestions.

As for not publishing the names of colleges that do not score as highly as do the listed Great Colleges to Work For, the reason is simple. The intent of this survey is not to identify some colleges as poor performers. The intent is to highlight those that appear to be doing something well. We would like to keep improving the survey in order to better do do that, and that's why I'm eager to hear suggestions.

Thanks in advance for your help,

Josh Fischman
Senior Editor
Chronicle of Higher Education

17. annon1234 - July 28, 2010 at 07:33 am

Well I just saw the list... My comment (#4) I falsely thought we got a survey. Must have been some other survey. Whatever survey we got, fortunately I logged in at the library, refused to answer some identifiable questions and have my fingers crossed it wasn't tagged somehow because I wasn't so very complimentary AND the place I work for is vindictive besides all the other things I said in my first comment.

18. texas2step - July 28, 2010 at 10:47 am

I thank the Chronicle for publishing this story and acknowledging the work of leaders at these schools who make their workplaces so positive. Like many, I have worked at some great colleges and at one unpleasant one. Kudos to the editorial staff.

19. anon098 - July 28, 2010 at 11:05 am

Re: the discussion on "best" and HBCUs
Stephen, your point is still valid despite Josh's explanation. The implication is clear and appears to be consciously made. This may be an attempt to positively report on our colleges (hmm..), but I am concerned about those schools, such as mine, that did not distribute the survey because they knew morale is bad (or, perhaps, were not included).

We have a rampant problem with lack of confidence in our executive officers, inequities in pay, sexism, favoritism, an insulated and arrogant leadership both in the upper administration and the faculty union leadership, and no HONEST attempt to solve our problems. I have worked at an HBCU for 20 years and do not find it to be especially racist, sexist, yes.

I would like to see an unbiased study on the governance and budgets of HBCUs, the policies, alumni, attitudes from within and without ... a complete and honest study. Sometimes we work hard to "look good" so majority schools will not sneer down at us, and outsiders work hard to make sure they are not sneering or are hiding it well. Racism, sexism, governance, money, this is probably to hot to handle.

20. careerchanger - August 25, 2010 at 11:13 am

For the majority of people out here looking for jobs in higher education that can't even get a job at one of the 97 worst colleges, which many of us would gladly have taken at some point over the past year or so, this is about as irrelevant as this sort of journalism can get. How about some articles on something that really matters instead of formulaic mainstream journalistic fluff like this?

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