Nearly One Third of Student Affairs Professionals Seeking to Leave Higher Education

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While most were happy with their work, finding it meaningful and interesting, many student affairs professionals do not see a future in their current role

New York, November 17, 2022 -- Macmillan Learning, a privately-held, family-owned education publishing and service company announced today the results of a study designed to better understand the student affairs employee experience. Several themes emerged, including that not only are student affairs professionals looking to leave their roles, but that many are also looking to leave higher education altogether. Reasons for dissatisfaction include low pay and an ever-increasing workload.

The survey of 324 student affairs professionals from 38 states and Canada conducted by Skyfactor Benchworks, a Macmillan Learning company, in partnership with The Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA) found that 37% of student affairs professionals are actively looking for a new job. Ten percent of those surveyed were solely looking for a new role inside higher education, 19% were solely searching for roles outside of higher education, and 8% were searching both.

“We knew going in that there may be an impact similar to other industries experiencing the great resignation, but the data was still very surprising,” said Macmillan Learning Sr. Director of Analytics and Research, Dr. Sherry Woosley. “Notably, it’s not the work sending them out the door; rather it’s the ‘business’ of higher education.”

Student Affairs Professionals Like Their Work

The majority of those surveyed had generally good feelings about the work they were doing, the people they work with and the positive impact that they believe it will have. Some of the key data include: 

  • 63% believe their job provides work that is meaningful
  • 55% believe their work contributes to a bigger purpose
  • 67% believe their team members treat each other with respect

Balancing work and personal values has been increasingly out of sorts since the pandemic, with student affairs professionals wanting to do good, and enjoying the work they do, but at the same time  being inundated by an increasing amount of work. “I thoroughly enjoy when our leadership team tackles a mountain of a challenge and comes out the other side in one piece. We may have some stressful situations that come our way but this group is seriously amazing when working together,” noted one respondent.

Career Growth, Pay and Work-Life Balance is Lacking

The “business” of higher education appears to be the key factor in dissatisfaction, with limited career opportunities, low pay, and poor work-life balance being cited. With many budgets decreasing alongside lower student enrollment, respondents noted that there was a lot of uncertainty about what the future may hold. 

One of the top reasons that respondents were dissatisfied with their role was the lack of opportunities or career paths. In fact, only 13% of respondents were highly satisfied with job opportunities across their institution. Thirty percent would not recommend their institution as a great place to work. Further, only 31% say their supervisor is mentoring them. “Staff would likely stay if they had career advancement opportunities,” noted Dr. Jason Wallace, Assistant Professor for Higher Education & Student Affairs Administration at the University of Southern Mississippi and Chair of the Research & Assessment Committee for SACSA. “Unlike faculty, who have a career pathway, many of them don’t have a track.” 

Financial reasons are another key factor in student affairs professionals seeking new employment with pay, raises, cost of living as reasons cited for dissatisfaction. Only 17% felt like they had a competitive salary and almost 40% were dissatisfied with pay. “I can go corporate and get paid 30K more and I don't have to work nights and weekends,” one respondent said.

Another reason for dissatisfaction was the lack of work-life balance, with only 30% of respondents citing a reasonable workload, and even fewer (27%) reporting a good work-life balance. In the comments, respondents noted that after the pandemic, they were expected to do more work with less support. One respondent noted: “Though I like my work, I have too much on my plate. If things are not reallocated or there are not additional hires, I will need to move on for better work-life balance.”

“With the complex work of student development and success, there is always more we can do. When we lose focus on or fail to establish strategic priorities, we can easily strain our staffing structures, which often produces diminishing returns across the board," said Dr. Thomas Bruick, Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for College Student Personnel Administration at University of Central Arkansas and Vice President for Scholarship & Research for SACSA. 

Workers are Being Encouraged to Leave Higher Education

A study on job embeddedness demonstrated that “an employee’s decision to voluntarily leave an organization is influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of their co-workers.” A recent LinkedIn News Poll of more than 25,000 people found that 59% said that a colleague's resignation led them to consider leaving their job as well. This “departure contagion” appears to also be impacting the higher education industry, with 45% of respondents noting they have been negatively impacted by the departure of close colleagues.

It’s not just colleagues impacting administrators decisions to leave higher education. Half of the respondents were being actively encouraged to change jobs. One noted, “The only thing keeping my chin above water is great coworkers who are leaving higher education, and they’re encouraging me to do the same.” Another said, “I went to lunch with a colleague who recently put in her notice to leave our institution and we discussed the benefits of employment outside of education.”

The research team expects to yield additional insights from the survey as they continue to analyze the data. For more information about Benchworks’ market-leading assessments and benchmarking, visit the Skyfactor website.

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About Macmillan Learning

Macmillan Learning is a privately-held, family-owned company that improves lives through learning. By linking research to learning practice, we develop pioneering products and learning materials for students that are highly effective and drive improved outcomes. Our engaging content is developed in partnership with the world's best researchers, educators, administrators, and developers. To learn more, please visit or join our Macmillan Community