Template: /var/www/farcry/projects/fandango/www/action/sherlockFunctions.cfm
Execution Time: 13.1 ms
Record Count: 1
Cached: Yes
Cache Type: timespan
Lazy: No
SELECT top 1 objectid,'cmCTAPromos' as objecttype
FROM cmCTAPromos
WHERE status = 'approved'
AND ctaType = 'moreinfo'

Understanding Turnover in Higher Education: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions

Career and Workforce Development Supporting the Profession Region II
Michelle Ferraino Hofstra University


Turnover has become a pervasive and complex issue affecting employment worldwide as part of the Great Resignation, an ongoing economic trend in which employees are resigning from their positions at higher rates post-pandemic. The higher education industry is also being affected by this as turnover is higher than ever. New research from College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, or CUPA-HR, reports that turnover is at an all-time high since it started doing research on turnover (CUPA-HR, 2023), and turnover rates have doubled since last year. Seasoned professionals are not only leaving their roles, but many are deciding to leave higher education entirely. Faculty and staff turnover can have significant consequences on the quality of education, institutional reputation, and financial stability. Particularly in Student Affairs in a post-pandemic world, this issue becomes relevant as it creates consequences and changes; particularly, in how administrators serve their students, train new staff, and how it affects current departments. There are many factors contributing to turnover in higher education, which can be explored, along with potential solutions, drawing on research and expert insights.

Areas of Concern: Where is Turnover Largest?

There are some areas of concern that are more prevalent than others as they relate to turnover. One area of grave concern is Admissions. CUPA-HR’s new research report contains analyses of data on 12,042 admissions employees in six admissions positions reported by 940 institutions (2023). This report published in April, finds that turnover is incredibly high in admission counselor positions, as 71% of admissions coordinators and counselors have been in their position for three years or less. Even amongst chief admission officers who tend to have been working in admissions for a median of 5 years, turnover is notably high. This trend is  problematic when considering that admissions staff serve a key role in colleges and universities’ future sustainability, especially as the enrollment cliff approaches. These positions with high turnover are individuals responsible for building the next graduating class as an institution. Admission counselors are often the first touchpoint in a student’s journey at an institution, helping them in the application process, connecting them with different stakeholders such as advisement, financial aid, and faculty, providing the first impression of an institution that can influence whether a student decides to attend or not. They provide the gateway to necessary information that can determine whether a student not only decides on an institution but is retained.

Another area for concern in turnover is Residence Life. This area has been prone to turnover more frequently in recent years. A study done in 2008 reported that there was a clear majority of employees who held their positions for at least 2 years, and that approximately 14% of staff are turned over each year (Wilson, 2008). More recent data seems to point to higher rates of turnover, with a recent report stating that two-thirds of the staff have been in their role under 2 years, and nearly a quarter (22 %) of residence life professional staff had been in their positions for less than a year. Less than 20% of people in this report worked in residence life for more than 4 years (Zippia, 2023). At many institutions, turnover is so high in this area that they are continually accepting applications for new resident directors.

Even higher-level administration is not immune to turnover. In fact, they also experience high turnover rates. A recent study done by Higher Education Publications, Inc reports that presidents and chancellors have changed at a rate of 23.5% in the last two years. (Callow, 2023).

Why is Turnover so High?

In the CUPA-HR (2023) survey, a considerable percentage of employees in higher education (33%) indicated they were actively looking for new jobs or likely to look within the next year, which is indicative of the retention problem in higher education. This number was even higher for the student affairs area itself, in which close to 40% of professionals indicated they were likely to search for a new role in the next year.

Although many of the issues cited for higher education professionals existed prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 ushered in a new era of student affairs that caused professionals to question the nature of their roles and job satisfaction. For many, the benefits did not outweigh the costs of their role. The pandemic also brought other issues to the surface that were not as readily apparent in the public eye.

One key aspect brought on by the pandemic is the prospect of remote work. The same CUPA-HR (2023)   study indicated that lack of remote work was the second-highest indicated reason for higher education professionals to leave their role. 44% of respondents reported it ranked in their top three reasons. Of those, 11% said it was their number one reason for finding a new job. Remote work became common when it was necessitated by the nature of the pandemic, but as focus is shifting away from the COVID-19 pandemic, employees enjoyed the benefits that remote work can bring. Additionally, it caused people to rethink the nature of their roles. 68% of people in higher education surveyed in 2023 indicated that most of their duties could be performed mostly remotely. This does not compare well to the typical setup most professionals experience, especially in consideration to their preferences. While fewer than one-third of employees surveyed said they prefer to work in extremes—either all remote or all on-site—40.5% said they prefer to work in a hybrid environment. 66% of employees worked almost completely on-site, despite only 31% of employees reporting that they preferred that arrangement. Especially as COVID-19 has allotted for remote work and showed how hybrid can be possible, many enjoy the benefits of a hybrid or flexible schedule, such as shorter and less expensive commute.

Some issues existed even prior to the pandemic, which in conjunction with the other factors, could be resulting in higher turnover rates. One of these factors is low compensation. One of the primary causes of turnover in higher education is low compensation for faculty and staff. Many higher education professionals, especially adjunct faculty, part-time professionals, and support staff, struggle with low wages and job insecurity, leading them to seek more lucrative opportunities elsewhere (Paulsen & Smart, 2020). Although many people are aware that education is not the most lucrative career, with the cost-of-living on the rise, it is becoming increasingly difficult to afford to live on an educator's salary. This can cause professionals who have transferrable skills, especially if they can be compensated higher elsewhere and have opportunity for a work modality that fits better with their lifestyle, to leave.

Another issue ushered in through the pandemic were layoffs during the pandemic, which contribute to these issues. Even after the pandemic, as many positions were reestablished, some institutions still experience great staff shortages and lack adequate coverage. This is expected to continue as the population of higher education officials ages towards retirement (Kim, 2023). At this point in time, 3 in 10 higher educational staff members are aged 55 and older. Especially when considering that higher education professionals often face heavy workloads and high levels of stress which alone can lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction, prompting them to leave (Trower, 2019), shorting staffage can be particularly problematic. When they are being asked to fill the roles of multiple people, it can contribute to their stress. Especially if the employees are not being adequately compensated for it, which many feel they are not being compensated enough for their original jobs. This can contribute to higher job dissatisfaction, higher burnout, and thus, higher turnover.

Limited opportunities for career advancement can also drive turnover. When employees perceive a lack of growth potential within their current institutions, they may look elsewhere for opportunities (Jaschik, 2019). Especially in the field of higher education, employees report a lack of career ladder (McClure, 2022). McClure (2022) talks about his own experience, “At some point, I would want to grow and even be considered for a promotion. Yet the career ladder was never discussed because there was none. If I excelled at my job, I would advance exactly to where I already was. The first time my future was explicitly mentioned was in a surprise meeting with a dean informing me of the institution’s intent to end the program.” Many professionals have similar experiences. They recall the adage they are told earlier on in their careers, “You have to move out to move up.” As professionals want to go for higher pay or better titles, they may seek better credentials, or higher roles entirely as upward advancement is limited.

Consequences of Turnover in Higher Education

It is crucially important to address turnover in institutions of higher education, as it can have some unintended consequences. Among the consequences is decreased educational quality. High faculty and staff turnover can adversely affect the quality of education. Frequent turnover disrupts institutional continuity, impacting student learning experiences (Eddy & Gaston-Gayles, 2018). In student affairs, as people are turning over, others are often expected to manage the roles of multiple people in addition to their own roles. This can mean the person may not be able to prioritize all aspects of their role adequately. If they do prioritize both, this may involve longer hours and more stress which can result in higher burnout rates.

Furthermore, high turnover rates can have substantial financial implications. The cost of recruiting, onboarding, and training new faculty and staff can be substantial. High turnover rates can strain institutional budgets and reduce long-term financial stability (Ehrenberg & Zhang, 2020). It can also cause reputational issues, which can have negative implications. Institutions with high turnover rates may develop reputational issues, making it harder to attract and retain top talent, students, and funding (Toma, 2018). With less people investing their time, energy, and fiscal resources, and adding in consideration of the implications to enrollment, this can cause additional financial turmoil.

Solutions to Mitigate Turnover

There are many potential solutions that institutional professionals can advocate for in mitigating turnover. First is to advocate for competitive compensation. Higher education institutions should strive to offer competitive compensation packages to attract and retain top talent (Paulsen & Smart, 2020). Although personnel costs are expensive, it is oftentimes more worthwhile and more efficient to pay people more or offer higher raises, than hiring and training someone new (Padova, 2022). In fact, it costs 7 percent more on average to hire someone new over retaining the current talent.

Another opportunity is to offer more professional development. This can provide staff opportunities to learn new skills, make them more viable candidates for promotion and career advancement, and can keep faculty and staff engaged and motivated (Jaschik, 2019). Furthermore, it is important to provide environments for employees to grow and advance, especially in keeping staff. Providing staff the opportunity to expand in their own department, with proper compensation, or other opportunities for them to be promoted could be worth their while, allowing them to pursue their passions, and retain staff.

Institutions can promote work-life balance by implementing policies and practices that reduce workload and stress (Trower, 2019). Some promising recommendations could lie in providing a hybrid work environment, switching to a four-day work week, and hiring part-time help to work nights and weekends. As many employees look to move hybrid, this could help retain employees who may be on the fence about leaving. Additionally, it can help cut costs. A four-day work week could also help cut costs at the institutional level, and lead to higher employee satisfaction. A promising study done by Boston College and University of Cambridge (2023) found that employees were 71% less burned out, 39% less stressed and 48% more satisfied with their job than before the trial. Additionally, they took less sick time. 60% also said it was easier to balance work and responsibilities at home, while 73% reported increased satisfaction with their lives. Fatigue was down, people were sleeping more, and mental health improved - all while increasing productivity for the companies surveyed despite the shorter hours. Although this may seem like a stretch for higher education, some institutions have already shifted to this model with success, including D’Youville College in New York. This has also provided the additional student-serving benefit that administration and staff were able to stagger their schedules and extend their hours to be able to better serve non-traditional students.


Turnover in higher education, especially student affairs, is a multifaceted issue with complex consequences that can trickle into the daily operations of our institutions and can affect the ability to adequately serve students. Addressing the causes and consequences of turnover is essential for ensuring institutional stability and maintaining the educational quality institutions provide. By prioritizing competitive compensation, professional development, work-life balance, job security, job mobility, and other factors, higher education institutions can work towards mitigating turnover and creating a more conducive environment for faculty and staff to thrive.

Works Cited:

Bonnell, C. (2023, February 22). 4-day workweek trial: Shorter hours, Happier Employees. 4-day workweek trial: Shorter hours, happier employees. https://apnews.com/article/business-d114ef8be69e1665fd22c39515bdaecf

Callow, B. (2023, February 6). College administrator data/turnover rates through 2022. Higher Education Publication. https://hepinc.com/newsroom/college-administrator-data-turnover-rates-through-2022/#:~:text=We%20found%20that%20presidents%20and,a%20higher%2024.6%25%20turnover%20overall

CUPA-HR. (2023, April). The Higher Ed Admissions Workforce.                                                           https://www.cupahr.org/surveys/research-briefs/the-higher-ed-admissions-workforce-april-2023/

CUPA-HR. (2023, September). The Higher Ed Admissions Workforce.                                                   https://www.cupahr.org/surveys/research-briefs/higher-ed-employee-retention-survey-findings-september-2023/

Jaschik, S. (2019). The Impact of job satisfaction and working conditions on the retention of adjunct faculty. The Journal of Higher Education, 90(5), 667-693.

Eddy, P. L., & Gaston-Gayles, J. L. (2018). Faculty turnover in student affairs: A longitudinal examination. Journal of College Student Development, 59(4), 439-453.

Ehrenberg, R. G., & Zhang, L. (2020). Do faculty salaries cause faculty turnover? The Review of Higher Education, 43(4), 1357-1392.

Kim, J. (2023, June 12). Future labor shortages and the university as a workplace. https://www.insidehighered.com/opinion/blogs/learning-innovation/2023/06/12/future-labor-shortages-and-university-workplace

McClure, K. (2022, December 2). Higher ed is a land of dead-end jobs - The chronicle of higher education. Higher ed is a land of dead-end jobs. https://www.chronicle.com/article/higher-ed-is-a-land-of-dead-end-jobs

Palmer, K. (2023, September 14). Limited remote work options contributing to Higher Ed staff turnover. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/workplace/remote-flexible-work/2023/09/14/limited-remote-work-options-contributing-higher-ed?utm_source=Inside%2BHigher%2BEd&utm_campaign=5e4cbfac28-DNU_2021_COPY_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fcbc04421-5e4cbfac28-237299053&mc_cid=5e4cbfac28&mc_eid=d6d9fe4a74

Paulsen, M. B., & Smart, J. C. (2020). The impact of faculty turnover on institutional quality and performance. Journal of Higher Education, 91(3), 287-309.

Toma, J. D. (2018). The impact of faculty turnover on institutional reputation and accountability. Higher Education, 76(2), 259-277.

Trower, C. A. (2019). Faculty and staff turnover in higher education: The role of workload and workplace stress. New Directions for Higher Education, 2019(188), 27-37.

Wilson, M. E. (2008). Recruitment and retention of entry-level staff in housing and residence life: A report on activities supported by the ACUHO-I Commissioned Research Program.

Zahneis, M. (2023, April 18). Turnover is bad across Higher Ed. it’s even worse in admissions. Turnover Is Bad Across Higher Ed. It’s Even Worse in Admissions. https://www.chronicle.com/article/turnover-is-bad-across-higher-ed-its-even-worse-in-admissions

Zippia. (2023). Get the job you really want. RESIDENCE LIFE COORDINATOR DEMOGRAPHICS AND STATISTICS IN THE US. https://www.zippia.com/residence-life-coordinator-jobs/demographics/