---- — If you were running a business, how much would you pay your employees not to show up for work?
When the employer in question is the University System of New Hampshire (USNH), the answer is almost $65 million over the past 10 years.
In this case, we’re not talking about paid time off for vacation, earned by the employee, or other typical situations, such as maternity leave or sick time. Instead, these are the salary and benefit costs paid to professors at the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University and Keene State College when they take a paid sabbatical. This represents time that these state university professors are not in classrooms or labs, teaching our students, yet they add to the ever-growing cost of higher education, which is rapidly becoming more unaffordable each year.
The working families of New Hampshire are struggling to find ways to pay for the cost of college, at a time when our state system charges among the highest amounts in the country for “in-state” students. At a time when the university system leadership has asked for a considerable increase in taxpayer subsidies, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation felt it was critical to look into the higher education system to try to understand what are some of the cost drivers that contribute to the rapidly increasing price for our public colleges.
Accordingly, through a series of Right to Know requests, AFPF learned that since 2004, New Hampshire university system professors have taken 178 yearlong sabbaticals and 743 part-year sabbaticals. This represents 550 years worth of paid time off provided by the tuition of the students and the taxpayers of New Hampshire. At a time when officials have publicly made, and continue to make, a loud case for higher tuitions and increased state funding, one has to wonder if this practice represents the best use of instructors’ time.
Given that, at present, the average salary and benefits of tenured New Hampshire state university professors, who represent 77 percent of faculty, average $139,943 while non-tenured professors (the other 23 percent) currently average $103,420, one has to think that amounts to a significant financial investment from the universities’ coffers to compensate those who are not in a classroom, adding value to teach students.
These sabbaticals, in total, amount to nearly $65 million over 10 years, by AFPF’s estimate. In fact, this number is very conservative, as anecdotal evidence seems to indicate strongly that more senior (and thus more greatly compensated) professors are more likely to take sabbaticals than are junior, and often non-tenured, faculty members, though the University System of New Hampshire could not provide details on these specifics.
Furthermore, in order to allow these sabbaticals, there are costs in other areas, in terms of requiring other instructors to cover for those professors on leave and the opportunity cost to students for courses that simply may not be offered as a result of a missing faculty member. Imagine being a senior at UNH looking forward to taking an advanced class in your field of study, only to learn that it won’t be offered, as the one professor who teaches it is taking a year abroad, and there is no ready replacement.
In light of the ongoing budget pressures expressed by the university system administration, one solution to the system’s financial concerns could be putting a moratorium on sabbaticals, as state universities in Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio have done recently. Alternately, as a means of managing a less than desired state subsidy, the Legislature could include such a moratorium in the state budget.
Over the course of a two-year state budget, this could save the university system $13 million, and likely even more, as we expect that the actual figure for the net costs of sabbaticals is substantially greater than our cautious estimate, especially considering that the average compensation package of a tenured professor has increased from $104,509 in 2004 to nearly $140,000 today.
Ultimately, everyone wants to make the cost of college education more affordable. Tuitions at New Hampshire state schools are among the highest nationally. As the New Hampshire Legislature and the USNH Board of Trustees contemplate ways to streamline and modernize the public university system, taking a close look at the role of faculty sabbaticals would be an important step to ensuring that our future generations get the opportunity to take advantage of higher education at a reasonable cost.
Greg Moore, of Manchester, is the state director of Americans for Prosperity Foundation – New Hampshire.