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Higher Education and Compensation in 2024

As higher education gears up for another year, recruiting and retention will once again consume a significant portion of our attention. Inevitably, these conversations will turn to compensation – a factor that can make the difference between a quick, successful hire or a long, frustrating search. While every institution and negotiation will differ, a few general strategies will help you effectively negotiate while navigating salary conversations and budget concerns to attract top talent in a competitive marketplace.


Pay, Benefits, and Perks to Consider

As higher education institutions seek ways to reshape their budgets to meet new challenges, it’s important to keep salary outgoings in mind. For many institutions, this continues to be a lagging indicator for success in attracting top talent that can turn corners for an institution’s most imperative strategies. According to research by Payscale, pay increases in 2024 are predicted to reach an average of 3.8%, up from the previous ‘norm’ of 3%. For comparison, the same survey in 2023 also predicted a 3.8% increase, while actual gains for the year reached 4%. Inflation is a main force – but not the only one – driving these increases. Employees also insist on higher compensation levels to offset increased spending in their daily lives.


As always, start with a strong baseline of understanding that encompasses salary line items at your institution and comparative salary data for similar roles across the country. If you need assistance gathering the relevant data, please reach out, and the Blue Rock team will be happy to help you!


In negotiations, start by offering a base salary that is competitive enough to attract (and retain) top candidates but sustainable enough to contribute to your institution’s overall financial health. These salary negotiations – and, of course, overall compensation considerations – should also take future growth and potential raises into account.


Remember, there’s more than just salary to discuss. Higher education leaders are passionate about their work but also want to know about the benefits – beyond income – they can expect. Be prepared for compensation conversations and negotiations to touch on topics including:


  • Flexible work: Gallup found that nine in ten remote-capable employees prefer remote work flexibility, and most prefer a hybrid model.
  • Career development: According to research from MIT Sloan, 67% of surveyed employees want to advance their careers, but 49% say they lack good advice or opportunities.
  • Expanded health benefits: Robust health insurance is a must-have, and adding expanded benefits like mental health support and extended parental leave can attract even more top talent.
  • Relocation assistance: Many higher ed leaders are willing – or even expect – to move for their next role, but they’ll want perks to offset the costs and stress, such as moving expenses, tuition discounts, or assistance with job searching for a trailing partner or school searches for children.


What Makes Your Employee Value Proposition Stand Out?

 A successful compensation negotiation is about positioning your employee value proposition in a way that highlights its strengths and appeals to what candidates want. As you read this, do you know what your employee value proposition is? If not, it’s time to quickly gather this information, as it’s also a retention statement. Working with an experienced executive recruiter can help in this process since recruiters know exactly how to ‘sell’ your institution and attract and retain the best talent. It’s important to have your value proposition prepared even if you are not hiring now; however, it’s critical when actively seeking talent as it speaks to candidates and encourages acceptance of an offer.


Whether you’re partnering with an outside recruiter or handling it yourself, a few key strategies can help you focus on the aspects most likely to lead to negotiation success, as follows:


  • Highlight positive and inclusive aspects of the institution’s culture, mission, and overall work environment.
  • Emphasize opportunities for career development, mentorship, and professional advancement, focusing on how your institution handles internal promotions and continuing education opportunities.
  • Discuss recognition programs and other incentives, such as performance-based bonuses, retirement matching, tuition reimbursement or exchange, and other rewards. These can add value to the overall compensation package and highlight that your institution is committed to recognizing motivated and productive employees.
  • Maintain an open, responsive dialogue that considers each candidate’s unique needs and preferences and personalizes the offer to them.


Blue Rock Search is here to help you win in the 2024 talent marketplace! Our experienced higher education recruiting team has the expertise and resources to help you find the right leader to steer your institution through whatever 2024 brings. Contact us today to learn more about what Blue Rock can do for you.


By Jacquelyn D. Elliott, Ed.D.


About the Author

Dr. Elliott is a Higher Education subject matter expert across multiple functions, including Strategic Enrollment Management, Financial Aid, Institutional Advancement, Student Life and Retention, and Academic Affairs. Dr. Elliott brings to the table a unique understanding of an institution’s need for specialized talent and the candidate’s desire to affect positive change. She has worked with more than 200 schools across the globe in a consulting capacity and has coached countless cabinet-level executives on strategy, job placement, meeting enrollment, net tuition, fundraising goals, and faculty development and training.

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