When most new college graduates look for work they focus on the business world, the public school system, or another industry away from the campus where they earned their degree. But academia offers its own career tracks even for people with no interest in teaching or research. And while the pay can be lower -- sometimes much lower -- than corporate salaries, working for the right school offers perks that can be hard to find in industry.
A new report from career site Glassdoor shows that the top-rated academic employers (based on employee reviews) offer flexibility and a healthy work-life balance, sweet tuition benefits, and a sense of doing meaningful work. At a time when companies in many industries are competing hard for top talent, these schools show what it takes for universities and colleges to recruit the best people -- and what job-seekers who want an on-campus career should set their sights on.
Glassdoor's Top 25 list includes an almost even balance of public and private schools, ranging from elite institutions such as Stanford and MIT to large public universities including Texas A&M and Florida State. Only three Ivy League institutions made this year's list: Princeton, Cornell, and Yale. Brigham Young University reclaimed the No. 1 spot this year after slipping to No. 3 last year in Glassdoor's ranking.
Within this relatively diverse group, there are some common themes that cropped up in employee reviews.
Flexibility and work/life balance
One of the most commonly cited benefits of working for these schools was flexibility, perhaps the most sought-after benefit of our busy times. Work/life balance, flexible hours or working location, and generous vacation policies were mentioned by reviewers of 14 of the schools in the top 25.
Some of that flexibility and free time is the natural outcome of the academic calendar, which tends to offer longer than typical breaks over the winter holidays and lighter summer workloads. "Employees get four weeks of vacation per year plus the week between Christmas and New Year's off," said a business analyst with FSU in Tallahassee.
A chance to advance
Almost one-third of the reviewers quoted by Glassdoor mentioned career development and opportunities for promotion in their feedback. "If you stay here long enough and work hard, the odds are good that you will have a chance to be promoted to leadership," said a medical resident at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
One of the long-standing appeals of academia is the chance to make an impact on lots of people, whether they are students in a classroom or people in the wider community who benefit from university-based research. Roughly one-third of the reviewers quoted brought up their school's support for research and giving them a sense of value in their work, including a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who described the school as "a place where you can develop a strong research program, explore ideas and have an impact."
Free, reimbursed, or reduced tuition is a benefit that's tough to beat, especially since tuition costs have increased so much in recent years. Several such programs were described by reviewers. Clemson University in South Carolina offers its employees six free credit hours per semester. A Princeton University janitor praised that school's tuition-reimbursement program. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign employees can take classes for free as well, while Washington University in St. Louis offers tuition benefits for its employees and their families, too.
Pay? It depends
Only two reviewers mentioned pay among the pluses of their jobs. A marketing specialist at the University of Michigan described entry-level pay as "competitive," while an associate director at MIT stood out for declaring that he or she is "well-compensated for the work I do interfacing with students." It's true that tenured professors at top schools can earn well into six figures per year -- but tenure is becoming a rarer option at most schools across the country.
There's been a lot of coverage this year of the fact that many adjunct professors -- who now comprise more than three-quarters of all American college professors -- earn substantially less money than tenured professors and don't have the same kind of job security. In fact, according to reports by National Public Radio and Salon, some adjunct professors take second jobs or apply for assistance programs to make ends meet. According to academics, pay varies quite a bit by school, so job-seekers should do very thorough homework before taking an offer.
For job-seekers who are more interested in flex time, work-life balance, and discounts on further education, there are some strong arguments for making a career on campus, especially at these schools.
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