Tag Archives: Living Wage Policy Study

AASHE 2020 Conference presentations (great news)

I have some great news…I’ve been formally notified that I’ve had two proposals for presentations accepted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its 2020 Global Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education. AASHE has provided a welcoming venue for my research since 2016 and provided opportunities for my work to reach administrators, students, and faculty across higher education. I’m delighted to be part of this year’s virtual conference, which runs October 20-22. The theme of the conference is “Mobilizing for a Just Transition,” which I think is particularly fitting now because we will have numerous opportunities to challenge our thinking about why we do things the way we’ve done them as we eventually emerge to the “next normal.”

The first presentation is titled (Some of the) Surprising Findings About Living Wages in Higher Education During a Global Pandemic. I framed the presentation this way so I could include some of the most interesting and surprising things I learned through both my study of living wage policies and practices at 4-year institutions (first quarter of 2020) and my just concluded study of community colleges. This talk is in a 15-minute “On-Demand Lightning Talk” format, so this talk will be fast. I promise it will be informative, and I will do my best to make it fun.

The second presentation is titled: “Your Mileage May Vary”: Creating Your Institution’s Roadmap to Just Employment. This talk is also intended to be inclusive of attendees from both 4-year institutions and community colleges. I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned (primarily through interviews with Chief Human Resources Officers) about the different paths that institutions have taken to enacting written living wage policies or adopting unwritten living wage practices. Participants will be able to apply that information in a way that best fits their institution’s intentions and situation. This session was originally proposed as a half-day pre-conference workshop, but that format has been discontinued with the change to a virtual conference; it is now a 40-minute “SimuLive” session, which will include a live Q&A segment during the session. I’m very happy with both format changes, especially so for this session, which will be available to many more people within the basic conference price.

The terrific folks at AASHE are reimagining the conference from the ground up, and the peek I’ve had at behind-the-scenes looked awesome. You can catch all the details at the link at the top of this post.

I look forward to connecting at the conference with colleagues — both new and familiar — who are interested in social sustainability.  See you in October!


Special thanks to special people

I’ve been blessed to have a number of terrific SJU students assisting me with the work of wrangling all of the institutional data, databases, and contact information needed to make this project run. They work behind the scenes — and you’ll see them credited in the “People” area of the site — but today is the end of the administrative “academic year” and marks some changes in the group, so I wanted to give them each a personal thank you and a public shout-out.

Danny Phelan (’22) is leaving the project after working this year (a) developing the database of community college contacts, and (b) assisting with the search for publicly available living wage policies at four-year institutions. Thank you and good luck, Danny!

Heather L. Jones (’22) soon starts an internship for the rest of this summer and plans to rejoin the project in the fall. This year, Heather has been working on the search for publicly available living wage policies at four year institutions for the past year. Thank you, Heather, and I look forward to working with you again this fall!

Maggie Koch (’22) is continuing with the project this summer to complete the search for publicly available living wage policies at four year institutions, as she’s been doing for the past year. Thank you, Maggie, I’m delighted that you are available and able to work this summer!

This past academic year I’ve been on research sabbatical dedicated to this project, and I simply couldn’t have covered this much ground without their support. Thank you!

In addition, Vraj Thakar (’22) is working with me this summer researching living wage policies posted on publicly available websites as part of SJU’s Summer Scholar Program. While I’ve been surveying and interviewing CHROs at community colleges, Vraj has been completing the collection of publicly available policies on community college websites. Vraj is at about the halfway point of his project, and it’s been a pleasure working with him. 

Warmly, Ken

Community college survey FAQs

I thought it would be a good idea to make a post of FAQs related to the current (June 2020) survey because most invitees (1) don’t know me and (2) haven’t heard about the study until now. I will add to these FAQs as other questions arise.

Due to the pressures on everyone’s time, this survey is only being fielded for a little over three weeks. To date, invitations to participate in the current survey have been emailed to Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) at every locally-governed community college in the United States, and also to the CHRO of each multi-college community college district, system, or state system governing community colleges. The initial response has been very encouraging, and I’m hopeful that as many institutions as possible will participate.


1. How long does it take to complete the survey?

2. How many institutions are being invited to participate in the survey?

3. How have you chosen which institutions to request data from?

4. Will the report list or otherwise identify the institutions that participate?

5. Will institutions be identified in subsequent phases of the study?

6. If we have a living wage policy, will it be shared with other institutions?

7. Why are you asking for our contact information in the survey?

8.  I received the invitation with the survey link, but I’m probably not the person who should complete it. How should I proceed?

9.  When does the data collection period end?

10.  Why conduct this survey now?

11.  Our institution doesn’t have a living wage policy – should I bother completing the survey?

12.  Our institution has most employees covered by collective bargaining agreements – should I bother completing the survey?

FAQs & Answers

1. How long does it take to complete the survey?

The vast majority of participants complete the survey in 2 to 4 minutes, with only a couple of participants taking more than 5 minutes to complete the survey – about the amount of time than I described in the invitation.

2. How many institutions are being invited to participate in the survey?

The current number is about 950 institutions.

In the present study, I’m surveying all of the public degree-granting community colleges in the United States. Degree-granting technical colleges and tribal community colleges are also included. Based on the most recent Carnegie Classification report and the American Association of Community Colleges, that comes to between 1,100 and 1,200 institutions.

3. How have you chosen which institutions to request data from?

This survey is designed as a census rather than a sample, since I’m trying to learn about living wage policies and practices across American community college. I identified institutions using the most recent Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) database, which categorizes institutions and provides other institutional data.

The IPEDS list is cross-referenced with the AACC list of community colleges and other college lists (and even Wikipedia!) to make sure I don’t miss any institutions.

For each institution, I’m inviting participation through the top HR person in the organization, as identified by the institution either by their title (e.g., CHRO) or their functional role. In the case of multi-college community college districts and community colleges governed at the system or the state level, the CHRO of the governing authority – vested with the authority to enact a living wage policy – is invited to participate.

I should emphasize that the individuals receiving invitations to participate are being asked to respond on behalf of the institution; this is not a survey about CHROs or their individual perspectives.

4. Will the report list or identify the institutions that participate?

No, not in the present phase of the study. The list of institutions will not be included in my preliminary report on this year’s survey or the resulting cycle of papers (see (5) below).

My pre-publication report of preliminary results to participating institutions this summer will not identify participating institutions by name, nor will it otherwise over-identify any institutions. For example, I’d be using descriptors such as “multi-college district” or “state-governed community college system” and other classification labels to describe data drawn from groups of institutions.

I’ll be reporting out on the response rate, the prevalence of living wage policies and practices, and the nature of living wage policies. A paper analyzing the nature of living wage practices will follow a bit later.

There are a lot of data from IPEDS that can be used to describe the institutions that participate (e.g., enrollment of subsets of the surveyed institutions, funding sources). Again, that will also be reported in aggregate, not by institution.

For institutions where I’m interviewing someone (i.e., where the institution has adopted a living wage practice), the institutions also will not be identified by name.

5. Will institutions be identified in subsequent phases of the study?

Institutions won’t be identified from the current survey, but in subsequent phases of the project, the answer is “it depends.”

Each phase of the larger project is self-contained, and institutions can choose to not to participate in later phases of the project (described on the website under Phases). In advance of each survey or other data collection, an institution will be aware of how its data will be used.

There are a couple of other phase of the project where institutions could be, are, or will be identified, but that is not part of this study:

  • Could be identified: If an interview this spring turns up a promising case study or example of practice/policy/process, I may double back to the interviewee and see if the institution wanted to be identified in subsequent work. If not, that’s fine. My “default” setting is “no identification” and an institution would have to “opt in” to be identified, so that identification would completely be the institution’s call, as it should be.
  • Are identified: My initial research on living wage policies examined policies publicly available via the institution’s public website. The institutions in that paper – which is being prepared for journal submission – will be identified.
  • Will be identified: I anticipate that this project may become a recurring survey (not unlike IPEDS), and there may be some point in the future where institutions would be identified. However, if that is the case, I would disclose that up front on a study-by-study basis.

My intent with the current survey is to collect data from as many institutions as will participate and to understand what current living wage practices and policies look like.

6. What about the living wage policies themselves?

The survey asks institutions that have a living wage policy to provide a copy of it; in exchange those institutions will have access to other institutions’ policies that are provided.

When completing the survey, participating institutions that have enacted a living wage policy are given the choice of uploading their document with identification removed or redacted (I’ll even do the redacting, if you’d prefer).

Institutions that share redacted policies will be able to benchmark other redacted policies; those institutions that share un-redacted policies will have access to the entire library of living wage policies. Essentially, an institution gets to “see” policies equivalent to what it has shared.

7. Why are you asking for our contact information in the survey?

For a handful of reasons:

  1. If you’ve already completed the survey, I really don’t want to send you a follow-up note asking you to do it again.
  2. I need to be able to connect your institutional responses to data from other sources (such as IPEDS).
  3. I need to be able to validate who participated in the survey.

8.  I received the invitation with the survey link, but I’m probably not the most appropriate person to complete it. How should I proceed?

Simply forward your invitation to the right person within your organization.

If you are new to your organization or position, there might be someone more knowledgable about living wage policies/practices and when/how they were implemented.

After that person completes the survey, they will become my point of contact for any follow-up.

9.  When does the data collection period end?

The survey is scheduled to close June 26, although I’d appreciate you completing the survey sooner rather than later.

10.  Why conduct this survey now?

I’ve been studying living wage policies and practices since mid-2015. This year, I am on research sabbatical in order to scale up the survey and increase my – and thus our – knowledge about the subject.

Additionally, the most recent Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) changes (effective January 1, 2020) means that HR professionals across higher education have a timely sense of compensation policies and practices affecting their institutions’ lowest paid employees.

The other factor affecting timing is the coronavirus pandemic. This survey was scheduled to begin in mid-March, but that clearly was an impossible time to field a survey with any hope of an acceptable return rate. I recognize that this summer is a chaotic time for almost everyone in higher education, and particularly in human resources; I also recognize that community colleges play a critical role in helping students and building their community, and hope that an investment of 2-4 minutes won’t be too much to ask on this important subject. Given the pressures everyone is under, a survey can be a welcome diversion before diving back into a complex and intense task or project.

11.  Our institution doesn’t have a living wage policy – should I bother completing the survey?

I hope you will, because I’m trying to survey every community college in the country and get the most complete and accurate data possible.

12.  Our institution has most employees covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) – should I bother completing the survey?

I hope you will, because I’m trying to survey every community college in the country and get the most complete and accurate data possible.

To date, each of the colleges that have I have identified as having a living wage policy or living wage practice have some employees covered by CBAs.

Community college survey launched

I have launched the survey of American public community colleges regarding each institution’s written living wage polices and/or unwritten living wage practices. This survey mirrors the survey conducted of all four-year institutions that I completed earlier this year.

I had originally planned to begin this survey of community colleges immediately after the earlier study of four-year institutions, which luckily was completed in early March, just days before the coronavirus disrupted everything.

My hope at this time is that — despite the great uncertainty surrounding our campuses both this summer and for the coming fall — community colleges HR leaders are interested in learning about living wage policies and practices that their peer institutions have implemented. Doing so will take only a couple of minutes to provide valuable data regarding the state of living wage policies and practices in their institutions.

Who’s invited to participate?

I am inviting institutions to participate in the study by email, and to benefit from participating by receiving research results in advance of publication.

  • Roughly half of American community colleges are governed by a local board, and I am personally sending an email to the Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) of each locally-governed community college.
  • For the half of community colleges without a local governing board, I am contacting the CHRO where the authority to approve policy is vested, either (1) a multi-college community college district, (2) a university within which the community college is housed, (3) a system of community colleges, or (4) a state-level board/agency.  

About the survey

Based on the previous study, the survey takes less than 4 minutes to complete, and the majority of respondents complete it within 2 minutes. All invitations to participate in the survey are sent from my email: weidner@sju.edu. The survey is hosted on Qualtrics (qualtrics.com), and invitees are provided a secure link to the survey.

Based on participants’ survey responses:

  • institutions with written living wage policies are asked to submit their institution’s policy (if you wish, we will redact all identifications of your institution); and
  • institutions with unwritten living wage practices are invited to be interviewed (about 30 minutes) about their practices (interview dates and times are available through the survey and run through July 3).

For either branch of the study, institutions and individuals responding will not be identified in our research results and reports.


The first invitations to participate will be sent out on a rolling basis through June 12; successive cycles of reminder invitations will continue until the survey closes (tentatively scheduled for June 26).

If you are a CHRO and haven’t received an invitation to participate in the survey, please email me: weidner@sju.edu.

If you aren’t a CHRO, please encourage your CHRO to look for the survey and complete it. Living wage policies and practices are an increasingly important subject that higher education institutions will likely need to address, either sooner or later – but we can’t learn about HR practices in higher education without your help!

Thank you!


Preliminary survey results delayed

The past month has been a time of unprecedented change and uncertainty. Although I have no idea what the new normal is, or when we will know it has arrived, there are encouraging signs everywhere about people helping each other through this situation. Those signs help make me even more hopeful about the future.

The COVID-19 situation has affected everyone’s lives and work in some way, and my own work is no exception. Originally I planned to distribute the summary of preliminary results from the recently completed survey last week. Unfortunately that summary will not be available until later in May. I’ll be distributing the summary document to participants via email and posting word of it here.

Please stay safe.