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University faculty in SD are holding onto jobs

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news Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- Despite the absence of salary increases for what's now become three years in a row, most faculty members stayed in their jobs at state universities in South Dakota.

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Indeed, the percentages of faculty turnover during the past three fiscal years -- 5.31 percent in 2009, 4.08 percent in 2010 and 5.41 percent in the 2011 fiscal year that just ended June 30 -- were at their lowest points in more than a decade.

Those circumstances appear contrary to anecdotal suggestions on campuses that faculty members have been leaving for higher-paying opportunities elsewhere.

The explanation might be that hard times in most states are straining colleges and universities, making new jobs harder to get in campus classrooms.

The head count of faculty members on South Dakota's state campuses was 1,589 for last academic year.

Janice Minder, director of human resources for the state Board of Regents, suggests there could be a wave building of professors and others who are preparing to move on or retire when the economy returns to a quicker pace.

"I believe the statistics would show that during an economic recession, turnover declines due to limited mobility and limited recruitment," Minder said.

"The concern will be as the economy rebounds in other states, South Dakota will lose skilled and valued faculty. In addition, we believe statistics also provide a concern that baby boomers who can retire will retire as the market rebounds."

During the past 10 years, South Dakota's state faculty members have become younger and older as a whole.

Those 35 and younger constituted 10 percent of the faculty force in 2001, 12.3 percent in 2006 and 15.5 percent in 2011.

Those in the 56-65 age group were 22.1 percent of the faculty in 2001, 22.8 percent in 2006 and 26.3 percent in 2011, and the over-65 group doubled during the same time span to 2.9 percent.

In 1998 the regents, who govern the state's public universities, embarked on a faculty salary-improvement program to close the gap between South Dakota and surrounding states. The difference was trimmed from 16.6 percent in 1998 to 8.3 percent in 2001. From there, South Dakota kept pace and gradually got the gap down to 5 percent.

But the first of three consecutive years without raises saw the difference shoot back out to 7.6 percent. Data for the past two years aren't available yet.

State-university students have helped pay for the salary improvements.

Extra fees imposed by the regents generated nearly $1.9 million from students in 1999. They've grown more than 10-fold, hitting $20.3 million in 2009.

The amount allocated from those fees to salary enhancement has stayed approximately the same since then because of the no-raise policy from the Legislature for state government employees, according to Monte Kramer, the regents' vice president of finance and administration.

What's unclear is whether the enhancement money, which was growing by about $2 million annually until the wage freeze hit, had an effect on turnover.

Turnover rates bounced erratically during the same years the improvement program's spending was going up.

In fact, as the salary gap became smaller the turnover rate became bigger.

System turnover was 8.89 percent in 1999, 8.36 percent in 2000, 7.15 percent in 2001 and 11.31 percent in 2002.

That was followed by somewhat better turnover rates of 6.65 percent in 2003 and 5.84 percent in 2004, then a jump back up to 8.56 percent in 2005.

Data from 2006 and 2007 wasn't kept as part of a payroll system conversion, according to Minder. The 2008 turnover was 8.57 percent.

After the stock-market plunge and the recession hit, turnover dropped into the 4-5 percent neighborhood for the past three years.

The facts of what's happening in the current 2012 budget year that began July 1 will start to become known as university payrolls click in this fall.

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