What factors influence admission directors’ salaries?

What factors influence admission directors’ salaries?

Walker, David A


Using data gathered through the 1999-2000 National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) salary survey, the researcher examined the effects of gender, ethnicity, and highest degree earned on the mean salaries of senior student affairs officers responsible for admission (SSAOAD) at public and private, four-year institutions. A fixed-effect analysis of covariance model found that highest degree earned significantly affected salaries at public and private institutions. Gender and ethnicity were not statistically significant at either institutional type. A hierarchical regression analysis indicated that age of respondent and degree were good predictors of salary at publics, while age was the best predictor at private institutions.


Research pertaining to issues of salary for women and professionals of color in senior-level student affairs positions is absent from our current understanding of equity issues. Salary research, related to student affairs officers responsible for the area of admission (SSAOAD), was noticeably missing from studies addressing issues of equity. The present study is intended to fill a void in the research, much of which is outdated (Blackhurst, 2000), and does not address issues of salary equity or proportionality percentages (defined as gender and ethnicity representations) in senior-level positions.

Research Questions

* What impact do the specific variables gender, ethnicity, and level of education have on the mean salaries of SSAOADs at public and private institutions?

* What are the predictive capabilities of all the variables of study on the salaries of SSAOADs at public and private institutions?

* What are the proportionality percentages, in terms of gender and ethnicity, for SSAOADs at public and private institutions?

Review of the Literature

Prolonged perceptions of salary inequity and disproportional representation within senior-level positions were cited as major areas of concern in a study of 500 women student affairs administrators’ professional satisfaction (Blackhurst, 2000). During the past two decades, research has established that females and professionals of color, when compared to Caucasian males, are represented at much lower percentage rates in senior-level student affairs positions (Drummond, 1995; Evans, 1988; Gross, 1978).

The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) has conducted one of the few salary surveys pertaining to administrators in the field of student affairs. Recent results derived from the NASPA survey have indicated that salaries and proportionality percentages for senior-level females and professionals of color have remained constant, or slowly increased, when compared to male and Caucasian professionals, but persist as key issues of concern (NASPA Research Division, 1996; 1998).

Many studies in the field of student affairs have identified variables such as gender, ethnicity, degree attainment, and proportionality as key factors in determining salary, retention, position changes, or career advancement (Evans, 1988; Gross, 1978; McEwen, Engstrom, and Williams, 1990; Sagaria, 1988). For example, in a study that examined enrollment and graduation data of student affairs graduate programs, researchers (McEwen et al.,1990, p. 51) found a “clear shift toward greater proportions of women entering the profession.” The demographic shift toward a higher proportion of females in student affairs, when coupled with lower salaries, has been termed the “feminization” of the field (Hamrick and Carlisle, 1990; McEwen et al., 1990).

Researchers (Drummond, 1995; McEwen et al., 1990; Twale, 1995) found that Caucasian males dominated senior-level positions, while women were over-represented at lower-level, “more nurturing, feminine” positions such as residence life and orientation. Positions that were occupied by a larger percentage of women or people of color were more likely to be filled by these same groups (Konrad and Pfeffer, 1991) and were often viewed as “devalued” positions (Hamrick and Carlisle, 1990). As Hamrick and Carlisle (1990, p. 307) noted about the field of student affairs, “there appears to be disproportionate numbers of women at lower levels and in traditionally female areas of responsibility.”

Maintaining a diverse demographic composition in student affairs is critical to the profession and the issue of salary equity. Drummond (1995) found that professionals of color in administrative positions helped with recruitment and retention programs. These administrators assisted in the areas of role modeling, mentoring, and community relations. McEwen, Engstrom and Williams (1990) called for an increase in cultural diversity among future generations of student affairs administrators. Finally, Collins (1990) found that the successful recruitment and retention of professionals of color often centered on the commitment of high-level administrators.



Data were gathered using the biennial NASPA salary survey from cycle year 1999-2000. The focus of this study pertains to 4-year, public and private institutions. Two-year institutions were excluded from this sample due to their low representation in the data set.

The survey solicited respondent and institutional demographic information such as age, gender, ethnicity, institutional size, and public or private support for the institution. To estimate the measurement reliability for the present study, an internal consistency procedure, Cronbach’s coefficient alpha (a), was computed. The results indicated that this sample’s assessment scores were reliable (a = .80). The construct “senior student affairs officer” was operationalized as the position that assumes responsibility for the total student affairs program at an institution (NASPA Research Division, 1996; 1998). In addition, senior student affairs officers responsible for admission (SSAOAD) was further categorized through implementation of the variable having major responsibility, or not, over the area of student affairs termed “admission.”


Participants included student affairs administrators at NASPA member institutions. Surveys were mailed to 1,198 higher education institutions in the United States. Respondents returned 419 surveys, a response rate of 35%. Although lower than previous years, the present sample is representative of past NASPA populations (i.e., a similar sample composition) (NASPA Research Division, 1996; 1998).


For this study, the variables were: salary (SAL), gender (GEN), age of respondent (AGE), length of time in position (LENG), institutional classification (CLAS), size of institution (SIZE), geographic location (LOC), ethnicity (ETH), and level of education (DEG). Due to low frequencies of professionals of color, ethnicity was collapsed into the variable: Caucasian/non-Hispanic and professionals of color. Degree was separated into Ph.D./Ed.D., M.A./M.S., and “other.” The “other” category consisted of predominately B.A./B.S. degrees, as well as a small number of professional business degrees.

Data Analysis

Controlling for size of institution with a fixed-effect analysis of covariance model (ANCOVA), meaning the variables of interest have the same values in any repeat of the study, the researcher examined the effects of gender, ethnicity, and highest degree earned (independent variables) on SSAOAD salary (dependent variable) at public and private, 4-year institutions. An ANCOVA general linear model examined the two-way and three-way interactions between the independent variables. Finally, a hierarchical multiple regression analysis was implemented to substantiate variables that the researcher concluded would yield the most efficient prediction of SSAOAD salaries at public and private institutions.


Of the 193 SSAOs responsible for admission, the overall mean salary at public institutions was $65,181 and at private institutions was $62,374. Women comprised 39.9% of the SSAOAD sample. The mean salary for women SSAOADs at public institutions was $61,437 and at private institutions was $52,467. These salaries were somewhat lower when compared to the mean salaries for male SSAOADs at public institutions (M = $67,802) and private institutions (M = $68,154). An ANCOVA revealed that there was a significant statistical difference in mean salary based on the independent variable gender at public institutions, but not at privates. However, it should be noted that gender at public institutions, although statistically significant, had a very small effect in explaining much of the variance in the dependent measure.

The majority of respondents possessed an M.A./M.S. degree (60.8%). Forty-eight respondents (25.4%) earned an “other” degree, while 26 (13.8%) of the respondents indicated a Ph.D./Ed.D. degree. An ANCOVA indicated that highest degree earned significantly affected the mean salary of SSAOADs at both public and private institutions. Bonferroni post hoc tests indicated that statistically significant differences existed among two of the three mean salaries for each category of highest degree earned at public institutions. Respondents indicating Ph.D./ Ed.D. degrees reported the highest mean salary at $80,820, which was significantly higher than the M.A./M.S. mean salary of $66,152 or the “other” degree salary of $56,320. At privates, respondents with Ph.D./Ed.D. degrees reported a mean salary of $84,726, which was significantly higher than respondents holding “other” degrees at $54,064.

Professionals of color comprised 10% of the sample. Caucasian/non-Hispanics at public institutions reported a mean salary of $65,006, while SSAOADs of color reported a mean salary of $66,277. At privates, Caucasian/non-Hispanics reported a mean salary of $62,259 and SSAOADs of color reported a mean salary of $63,900. An ANCOVA revealed a no significant statistical differences in mean salary based on ethnicity between the Caucasian/non-Hispanic group and professionals of color at public or private institutions.

An ANCOVA model examined the two and three-way interaction effects on mean SSAOAD salary between gender, ethnicity, and highest degree earned. No interactions were found for any of the variables at publics and only one statistically significant main effect was found at publics. No statistically significant main effects or interactions were found for any of the variables at private institutions. This could be attributed to a suppressing effect of the covariate on other variables within the model.

Controlling for size of institution, a hierarchical model was conducted. At public institutions, there was a strong co-occurrence between the combination age of respondent, length of time in position, and highest degree (predictors) and salary (criterion). Forty-three percent of the variance in salary was shared by these three predictor variables. The standardized regression coefficients (b), along with structure coefficients (rs), help to indicate predictor variable importance by demonstrating weights assigned to each variable and the correlation (r^sub s^) of each of the variables with the linear composite created by the weights. For instance, age had the largest influence on salary ( b= .632; r^sub s^ = .813), followed by degree (b= .215; r^sub s^ = .545), and length of time ( b= -.290; r^sub s^ = -.066); meaning the value of salary tended to decrease as the length of time in the position increased.

For private institutions, the age of the respondent was the best predictor of SSAOAD salary. The multiple correlation coefficient (R = .565) implied that there was a fairly strong correlation between age and the criterion variable salary. Thirty-two percent of the variance in salary at privates was attributed to age. Further, age had a substantial influence on salary (b= .500; r^sub s^ =.783).

Discussion and Implications

Initially, a one-way ANOVA indicated that gender influenced salary level for SSAOADs at both public and private institutions. After introducing the covariate, size of institution, to the variable gender in the ANCOVA, this apparent statistically significant difference disappeared. Conducting a partial correlation technique that indicated SIZE had an intervening effect on the relationship between GEN and SAL supported this further. The regression analysis suggested that gender was not a significant or efficient predictor of salary at public or private institutions. In fact, once women achieve a high-level student affairs position, such as director of admission, salaries seem to be relatively similar to those of their male counterparts (Reason, Walker, and Robinson, in press). However, the number of women in SSAOAD positions (42.4% at publics and 33.8% at privates), when compared with the number of men, indicates that gender must be examined further. Although this study does not focus on promotion equity, it is interesting to note that the current results add to the proposition that women do not appear to be promoted to high-level administrative positions at a proportional rate (Earwood-Smith, Jordan-Cox, Hudson, and Smith, 1990; Reason et al., in press).

As mentioned previously, educational attainment appeared to influence salary level for SSAOADs at public and private institutions in certain circumstances (i.e., between Ph.D./Ed.D. and “other” and Ph.D./Ed.D. and M.A./M.S. at publics and Ph.D./Ed.D. and “other” at privates). For example, at public institutions, higher levels of education seemed to translate into higher SSAOAD salaries. An examination of Table 1 shows that this was true particularly for Caucasian men at public institutions. The mean salary for Caucasian men with a terminal degree at public institutions was approximately $84,497, or $18,000 more than the salary for Caucasian men with an M.A./M.S. degree (M = $65,885). At private institutions, the disparity in mean salary based on educational level was similar to that found at public institutions. The mean salary for Caucasian women with an M.A./M.S. degree was about $14,000 more than the mean salary for Caucasian women with an “other” degree (in this instance nearly all of the “other” degrees were B.A./B.S.). In addition, Caucasian men with a terminal degree had a mean salary over $14,000 more than their counterparts with an M.A./M.S. degree.

Ethnic background did not significantly affect mean salary at public or private institutions. Interpreting such a finding must be cautioned, however. As with gender discussed above, the number of SSAOADs of color at sampled public institutions (e.g., 7.3% African American, 2.2% Latino/Hispanic, .7% Asian American, and .7% Native American) and private institutions (e.g., 2.9% African American and 2.9 % Latino/Hispanic) are disproportionately lower than Caucasian/non-Hispanic SSAOADs at publics (89.1%) and privates (94.2%).

The regression analysis indicated a negative relationship between length of time in position and salary at public institutions. This topic has been cited in studies pertaining to faculty salary (McCulley and Downey, 1993; Snyder, McLaughlin, and Montgomery, 1992) and termed “salary compression.” Webster (1995, p. 732) finds that, “Compression occurs when the salaries of junior faculty approach or exceed those of their more senior colleagues.”

In the current study, compression seems to be transpiring with SSAOAD salary, although the relationship between salary and length is fragile. Cross-tabulation analysis verifies that, indeed, as length of time in the position increases, mean salary decreases. For example, at public institutions the average time in the SSAOAD position was 7.11 years. SSAOADs with 5 to 9 years had a mean salary of $81,313, while their counterparts with 10 to 14 years had a mean salary of $ 63,263 or a decrease of more than $18,000. It should be noted that the apparent conjoining of the concept of salary compression from faculty positions to a senior student affairs position, in this instance SSAOAD, should be cautioned until further research can provide generalizability, with some level of certainty from numerous samples, to accompany this inference.

Finally, of the eight variables used in the regression analysis, age of respondent seemed to be the most consistent, efficient predictor of salary for SSAOADs at both institutional types. At public institutions, the largest group of admission directors was in the age range of 46 to 55 years (41.2%), and at privates, the typical age range was split more evenly between 46 to 55 years (34.3%) and 36 to 45 years (32.8%).

Future Research

The NASPA salary survey provides an opportunity to construct longitudinal comparisons of all variables addressed in this study. Tracking trends will allow for an understanding of progress toward equity and proportionality within student affairs.

The variables of ethnicity and gender require further research pertaining to their ability to predict salaries. Of interest, would be to examine historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), predominately Latino/a institutions, tribal colleges, and women’s institutions to determine if these variables are predictors of SSAOAD salary outside of historically Caucasian institutions and coeducational institutions.

Finally, the implementation of qualitative methods would enable the profession to capture the richness of high-level student affairs officers’ individual stories. These narratives could be used as case studies to complement and enhance past research, thus providing a more complete picture across administrative areas.

Editor’s Note: For a copy of this study’s complete data and results, please contact the author by email at dwalker@fau.edu.


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David A. Walker obtained a Ph.D. in higher education from Iowa State University and worked in student affairs for five years in the area of international education. Presently, he is an assistant professor of education research at Florida Atlantic University. His research interests include: international students and international education, issues of salary equity and personnel proportionality of high-level administrators within the field of student affairs, testing and measurement, and working with large data sets.

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