Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier staff writer
In response to rising inflation and an uncertain economic outlook, Berry College has announced pay raises for its faculty and staff. All employees with more than six months of employment with the college are eligible for the raises. David Slade, interim provost, said that the raises were announced by college president Stephen Briggs at the annual convocation for faculty and staff.
“[Briggs] at the very opening faculty/staff convocation—there’s an opening convocation at the beginning of every year before students get here—was very public in his statement about Berry having a higher raise range than normal responding to some of the inflationary pressures everybody is facing,” Slade said.
According to Brad Reeder, assistant vice president of financial services, while employees at Berry have received annual raises for the past 11 years, the percentage of funds allocated towards raises was higher this year than it has been in the past. Additionally, this year raise funds have been distributed to ensure that lower-income employees receive a greater percentage raise than higher-earning employees.
“I’ve been here approximately eleven years, and just in general, this was the highest raise pool since I’ve been here,” Reeder said. “We developed a model that was more weighted towards the lower-paid individuals on campus to where they received a larger percentage raise than those on the upper spectrum of the pay scale.”
Joyce Heames, dean of the Campbell School of Business, said that the amount of individual employees’ raise depends on performance evaluations from supervisors.
“It’s based on performance evaluation,” Heames said. “If you have a very high performer you try to give them the high end of the range and if you have a very low performer you try to give them the lower end of the range.”
While many colleges have been struggling financially recently, Berry has remained able to increase spending on salaries, which constitute over half of the school’s budget, despite poor conditions in financial markets. Reeder said that this is in part due to the conservative management of Berry’s endowment funds, which makes the school less susceptible to swings in the markets.
“We have a spending policy that helps guide the draw, the amount you pull from the endowment every year,” Reeder said. “That helps kind of smooth things out, so in a positive market where the market greatly increases, you don’t get a huge upswing, and the opposite is true on a down market, like we’ve been experiencing, you don’t have a huge down swing.”
Reeder added that in addition to its endowment, Berry’s diverse sources of income have allowed to remain financially stable despite relatively low increases in tuition.
“Tuition only went up 1.9% last year. That doesn’t even cover the wage increase,” Reeder said. “That’s where the endowment income, the other income such as the land we lease to the retirement community, building a hotel and the revenue that’s generated from that comes in; all of that helps cover what would be the payroll increase.”
Students are also facing the same inflationary pressures that all Americans have been grappling with recently, and many may be struggling more acutely due to student debt burdens and lack of disposable income. Slade said that Berry considers reducing the amount of debt students graduate to be an important priority.
“I would say that Berry is very mindful of the financial burden that it is to be in college and it is to be [at Berry specifically],” Slade said. “We want to support our students to be successful and to not graduate from Berry with inordinate debt. Overall we manage that pretty well.”
According to Slade, the college administration has considered adjustments to student work wages. Such changes, however, are considered on a different decision-making schedule than the yearly determination of the pay raise pool for faculty and staff.
“A few years ago Berry made some big adjustments to the student work wages. I think that we’re mindful about how we need to respond to that in the future, but those are more long-term,” Slade said. “It’s not that they’re totally separate, because they all relate to the budget, but they all operate on a different planning schedule.”
Slade added that he hoped that the raises would ultimately have a positive effect on students, in part because of the high degree of interaction between Berry students and faculty as well as staff work supervisors.
“I do think that it’s important because at the end of the day, whether it’s in response to inflation or not, we’re rewarding faculty and staff who are doing good work with students. That’s why all of us are here,” Slade said. “I would hope that students would want for the faculty and staff that they work with to have good working conditions and to be treated fairly.”
Despite Berry’s relative strength in difficult economic circumstances, Slade said that the college must remain aware of the challenges it faces to maintain its position.
“To say that we are in a good spot, I say that with a strong measure of humility. It is not that we are better than other places,” Slade said. “I think we have some very wide leaders who’ve helped to situate where we are. We’re very blessed in lots of ways, but I also believe that there’s no room for us to be complacent about that.”