Tag Archives: Social sustainability

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!


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.

Survey data collection ends February 14

We’re now in the last portion of the survey data collection phase for the study, which will continue until Feb 14.

As before, I’m personally sending an email to the Chief Human Resource Officer of every four year public and private non-profit college and university in the 50 states and DC, inviting them to participate in the study and to benefit from participating by receiving our research results in advance of their publication. The surveys will be sent on a rolling basis over the next 10 days.

The updated survey takes less than 8 minutes to complete. 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 living wage policies are asked to submit their institution’s policy (if you wish, we’ll redact all identifications of your institution), while institutions with living wage practices are asked to be interviewed (about 30 minutes) about their practices. For either branch of the study, institutions will not be identified in our research results and reports.

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!

What do the 2019 AP Preseason Top 25 College Football Poll and our 2018 list of institutions with publicly-available living wage policies have in common? More than you might think.

You know autumn is just around the corner when the AP releases its annual pre-season poll of sportswriters and broadcasters ranking the top 25 college football teams. Since I both teach and earned my degrees at institutions that don’t play NCAA football, I don’t have a strong on-field rooting interest…

…but whenever I see a list a schools, I refer back to this project and last year’s (2018) list of 32 American higher education institutions (HEIs) with (either all or part of) a living wage policy publicly available on their institution’s website – that about 1% of all four year HEIs (see my AASHE webinar here).

It looks as though schools with (preseason) top-ranked football teams are more likely to have some form of living wage policy than the larger population of all institutions. Out of the 25 teams making the 2019 preseason poll, only 3 institutions were on last year’s living wage policy – that’s 12% of teams in the poll. Only 1 of the 21 teams “also receiving votes” in the poll is on the living wage policy list, so out of all 46 teams receiving votes, about 8.5% of the are on the living wage policy list.

The four teams/institutions are 16th ranked Auburn University (2018 Living Wage Policy score 40), 19th ranked University of Wisconsin (35), 25th ranked Stanford University of Wisconsin-Madison (90), and “also-receiving votes” but unranked Utah State University (20).

I’m pondering this: If all 3,000+ four year institutions in America had living wage policies at the same rate as the 46 vote-getting schools in the AP preseason football poll, there would be over 250 institutions with some sort of living wage policy (instead of 32).

This fall I’m soliciting participation from chief human resource officers (CHROs) in this project to answer that question. As before, I’ll be asking if living wage policies and/or practices are in effect. I’ll be asking institutions with policies to provide them, and I’ll be inviting CHROs at colleges with living wage policies or practices to be interviewed about their institution’s practices. Of particular interest to me is (a) how those living wage policies came about, and (b) the financial impact of those policies on institutions.

Reflecting on AASHE (with shout-outs!)

Presenting three talks at two very different conferences in a span of six days is a lot of input, particularly when the audiences have such different lenses on our common causes: improving our higher education institutions. This post is about the first conference (AASHE); in a separate post I’ll write about CUPA-HR.

At the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE, aashe.org) in Pittsburgh (Oct 3),  I talked with with an interesting mix of students, faculty, and staff in a variety of different roles. The conference theme was the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and there was heightened sense of urgency to take action on climate change was palpable; this past Monday the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its landmark report Global Warming of 1.5º C is sobering about what needs to be done.

This was my third consecutive year presenting at this conference; for folks unfamiliar with AASHE it is very broad “tent” with a primary emphasis toward environmental sustainability. The expo hall includes everything from electric cars/carts to customized recycling containers to bike share and campus scooter programs to carbon-footprint tracking and academic programs in sustainability from many different perspectives. There’s a whole lot of green building going on out there!

The sizable area of poster sessions at AASHE included everything from thermostat control initiatives (Wesleyan U) to “blender bikes” (Ohio U) to making “bag boards” from compressed plastic bags (UNC-Wilmington). Social sustainability – such as the focus of my project – is a bit of a niche within AASHE. If audience size from year to year is any indication, it is an area of growing interest – and concern – in American higher education. I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute to our ongoing conversation.

It was a lot of fun to explore my material from different perspectives in each of my two AASHE talks. My introductory session on living wage policies attracted a number of students, and an intermediate level session for people familiar with the living wage concept, where were able to talk in greater detail about what I’ve learned so far through this project and compare notes with practitioners. And some folks came for both (you know who you are – thank you!).

Between the two sessions, I was able to chat with a public policy graduate student from just down the street here in Philadelphia, sustainability coordinators from coast to coast (and all points in between), and adjunct and tenure track faculty in public and private institutions.

I’m looking forward to continuing to work with AASHE, and I’ll keep you posted here whenever I have significant news. Next year’s AASHE conference is in Spokane WA, October 27-30, 2019. I hope to see you there.