Job Hakr

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


Negotiating Salaries in Student Affairs  

Negotiating Salaries in Student Affairs

Negotiating Salaries in Student Affairs

Negotiating Salaries in Student Affairs

 The student affairs job search can take a lot out of a professional. You have to spend a lot of time researching positions, applying to openings, fielding inquiries, and conducting phone & web interviews.

So, when it comes time to conduct an on-campus interview it can feel like a small triumph: especially when it leads to an offer by the employer.

But this is when things start to go awry for many student affairs professionals. At this time in the job search process you’ve probably applied to dozens of jobs, conducted a handful of first round interviews, and visited a few campuses.

But negotiating a salary? You haven’t been here before. 

That’s why salary negotiations can be such a pain point for the student affairs professional. Many have little to no experience with them.

Another reason why salary negotiations are so tough for student affairs professionals is the nature of the activity. I have yet to meet another colleague that wasn’t collaborative and cooperative. That is why many try to minimize the awkwardness of the salary negotiation by avoiding it.  They see it as a combative process.

But it doesn’t have to be. Remember: you are the professional. It is your duty to communicate your needs and negotiate for a salary that compensates you fairly for your knowledge, background, skills and abilities.

When does it begin?

The salary negotiation process begins when the college or university extends a verbal or “conditional” offer. This means that an offer was extended to you over the phone, in person, or over email.  It means that you are their choice to fill the role.

The “conditional” part means that this offer is conditional on agreed terms. Sometimes those terms include a reference check, background check, or credit check.  All of the time it requires both parties (you and the university) to settle on a compensation package.  

Structuring the offer

The salary negotiation offer begins with the following items: the title of the position, the base salary, and the start date.

It’s important to note that when thinking about salary negotiations you can rely on this saying that I came up with: “everything is negotiable unless you are told otherwise” – Dave Eng.

I wish I had known this earlier in my career. Only through many mistakes that did I learn that I could have negotiated for things like a later start date, a meal plan, and yes (gasp) a higher starting salary.

Point person

Every salary negotiation I’ve completed always dealt with one contact person. This was almost always the hiring manger for the position (the person who would supervise me). On a few occasions it was with a human resources representative.

I say this because salary negations can become tricky. To minimize any mishaps, miscommunications, or misunderstandings, you should rely on a single person to communicate with. That person (whether it be the hiring manager, human resources coordinator, or executive) will reach out to other people on their team to confirm requests and details. That is their job. Your job is to remain in touch with your contact person (and only this person) during the negotiation process.

Show me the money

The first thing that student affairs professionals will look at is the money.  During your initial offer you will be presented with a figure. This is your conditional gross salary: what you make before any taxes, retirement, or other benefits are calculated.  This should be the number that you refer to when beginning your negotiations.

Here is where some good research comes into play. Using sites like the Salary Report from Higher Ed Jobs and Glassdoor Salaries  can help you pinpoint where exactly your compensation falls according to the position, location, and title.

I spend a significant amount of time prior to any on-campus interview reviewing the institution’s salary history. This helps me determine how I set my salary expectations for the position. I then use my experience with the on-campus interview to refine my number further.

What am I looking for? I want to know if I’ll be asked to complete duties similar to colleagues in the same roles at other universities. If so, then I should be compensated accordingly.

If you are planning on re-locating, then check out the SmartAsset Cost of Living Calculator to determine the comparable salary you’d have to earn in order to maintain your lifestyle and living conditions.

B is for benefits

Can I tell you a secret? Benefits are my favorite! One of the best parts of working in student affairs are the benefits that you earn. I know that salaries in student affairs work is not always the best compared to your peers that may work outside of higher education. But I have yet to work for an institution where the benefits haven’t been significant.

Here is another opportunity where you can shine during the salary negotiation process. Sometimes institutions cannot flex as much when it comes to salaries (especially if your position is part of unionized labor). But benefits are often more flexible.

Here are some benefits that other student affairs professionals didn’t know they could negotiate for:

Start Date

Professional Development (Conferences & Travel)

Re-Location Expenses (Moving Van, Boxes, Hiring Help)

Health Insurance (Premium & Start Date)

Dental Insurance (Premium & Start Date)

Vision Insurance (Premium & Start Date)

Child Care & Day Care

Retirement Plans (Matching, Start Date, Contributions)

Tuition Remission (For Yourself & Family)

Commuting Plans

Life Insurance

Legal Advice

Housing (Type, Location, Furnishings, Utilities)

Board (Meal Plans, Dining, Groceries)

Wireless Cell Phone Plan

Wellness Programs (Gym Membership, Activity Trackers)


Vacation Time (Pre-Arranged & Upcoming)

Sick Days (Starting Balance & Use Days)

Vehicle (Institution Owned / Leased)

Performance Bonuses

Cost of Living Increases

Flexible Work Arrangements (Remote & Telecommute)

This is just the tip of the iceberg here. I am sure that I forgot some, but the benefits of working in higher education are substantial. It is best to get an overall view of your entire benefits package while also negotiating your salary. You may be able to accept a lower salary if you can make up the difference in some other areas where you have significant need (i.e. monthly child care for young families)

How can you negotiate?

Not all negotiations are equal. A newly hired Vice President is going to have significantly more leeway compared to a new Resident Director. However, if you wish to take that top spot one day, then it helps to be able to develop your negotiation chops now.

So how do you approach this often-difficult subject?

Think about it from a win-win perspective. I know that it might be difficult: but both the university and you want the same things.

The university wants to fill its vacancy with a talented and motivated professional to support their student affairs team and help fulfill great outcomes for their students. As the candidate, you want to find a challenging position that fits your personal needs and professional desires that will help you grow over time. 

It’s in both of your interests to settle on compensation that makes everyone happy.

Actionable tips

Here are some actionable tips to consider when negotiating your student affairs salaries:

Conduct the negotiation over e-mail if possible. This provides a written record of what has been discussed and agreed to. This isn’t always possible and you may have to resort to a phone call. In that case, take detailed notes and send a follow up email confirming the details discussed during the call along with next steps and a date and time to follow up again.

Remember this is a two-way street. Research the position’s salary expectations. But don’t think that you can ask for 50% more than what they’ve published. If the salary doesn’t exactly fit your expectations then negotiate based on benefits. This is how I was able to successfully land a rent-free townhouse in addition to a higher starting salary.

Consider geography when negotiating your position. High cost of living areas like urban centers and cities are going to be more expensive than rural areas.  Starting salaries will most likely be higher. So be sure to use that cost of living calculator to determine if your potential new salary can maintain your cost of living. If it can’t, then you have reason to negotiate for more money as well as other benefits like commuting plans, subsidized housing, or remote work arrangements.

Closing thoughts

Your long-term satisfaction with the institution and your position is greatly dependent on how you are compensated. You owe it to yourself to negotiate on your behalf to be paid a fair wage dependent on what you bring to the table.

If you need some additional tips with your search then check out the free eBook Getting Started in your Student Affairs Job Search available here.

Good luck and happy negotiating,

Dave Eng, EdD
Provost, The Job Hakr


Heathfield, S. M. (2019, March 03). What Affects Salary Negotiation When You're Hiring a New Employee? Retrieved April 8, 2019, from