In recent years, the turnover rate among professionals in higher education has seen a significant increase, with limited opportunities for remote work cited as a major contributing factor, according to a report released by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).
The report, which surveyed 4,782 non-faculty higher education professionals, including administrators and support staff, highlights a notable shift in employment trends within the sector.
Specifically, the data reveals that the percentage of full-time exempt staff members leaving their positions nearly doubled over a two-year period, surging from 7.9 percent during the 2020–21 academic year to a striking 14.3 percent during the 2022–23 academic year.
The report aimed to uncover the underlying reasons behind this surge in staff turnover. The findings revealed that 86 percent of respondents listed a pay increase as one of their top three motivators for seeking new employment, with 53 percent identifying it as their primary reason.
The opportunity to work remotely emerged as the second most compelling factor for job seekers, with 44 percent of respondents ranking it among their top three motivations.
11% of higher education professionals prioritize remote work
Notably, 11 percent of those respondents cited remote work as their primary reason for pursuing new job opportunities.
Other commonly cited motivations included seeking a promotion, improved benefits, and a more flexible work schedule.
The COVID-19 pandemic initially necessitated remote work arrangements for many higher education professionals.
However, a significant majority (68.3 percent) of respondents surveyed in 2023 expressed the belief that most of their job responsibilities could be effectively carried out remotely.
Kevin McClure, an associate professor of higher education at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, noted, “People figured out through the pandemic that they could do it—they could do their jobs, meet expectations, serve students well and do it from multiple locations.”
He also pointed out that faculty members have long benefited from hybrid and flexible work arrangements, highlighting the disparity in policies between faculty and staff.
The report also underscored a significant gap between employees’ preferences for remote or hybrid work and their actual work arrangements.
While 40.5 percent of respondents indicated a preference for hybrid work, the report revealed that 66 percent of employees continued to work predominantly or entirely on-site, with only 31 percent expressing a preference for this setup.
The report additionally found variations in work arrangement preferences based on race and gender, with 43 percent of men preferring on-site work compared to 27 percent of women.
White employees were also more likely to favor on-site work compared to employees of color.