In Higher Education Career Planning, use COLA for Salary decisions

COLA is a very important consideration for academic job seekers, including faculty, university administrators and post-docs; we don’t mean Coke vs. Pepsi.  COLA is cost-of-living-adjustment.

Simply put, higher education career planning (particularly for faculty) must take into account many factors, but none is more important than financial survival; a lot of that depends upon where the academic job seeker resides.  Talk of dual careers for university employees, schools for kids (if applicable) and social life all mean nothing if you cannot afford to pay for groceries, shelter, clothes and gas.

Start by asking yourself the question: “if I was to continue my academic career at this institution, what compensation package would I be entitled to?”  The theory of the answer should not vary by type of university employee (faculty, university administrators and post-docs), so you can easily set your bounds as a starting point.

There are many evaluative tools for COLA as you progress through your academic career, and they should give you much more information than simply one adjusted number.  At a minimum, COLA should have sub-factors for:  groceries, housing, utilities, transportation and healthcare.  We like the CNN COLA indicator for the information it provides:  although it can be locationally limited for academic job seekers whose current positions are in smaller college towns.

One of the first questions academic job seekers will be asked by the department search committee will be what kind of compensation you are seeking.  Have your guns loaded with an answer such as:

“Based on where I currently am, both location and financially, a fair package at XYZ University in City would be $##K.” Keep the answer to the department search committee representative simple, but well thought out.  Remember, it is only a starting point for negotiations during higher education career planning and can prevent significant angst later.

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