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What 70+ higher ed leaders are saying about staff recruitment and retention in today’s competitive labor market

March 24, 2023, By Brooke Thayer, Senior Director, Research Development

Competition for talent is at an all-time high, forcing colleges and universities to rethink their historical approach to attracting and retaining talented staff on their campuses. To help leadership teams understand where the industry is trending and what improvements they must make to compete, we surveyed chief business officers and chief human resources officers about the current state of higher ed staffing and turnover, talent infrastructure and investments, and staff recruitment and retention practices. Based on our initial results, here are two imperatives for campus leaders seeking to increase their institution’s competitiveness as an employer.

EAB’s Talent Questionnaire in brief:

  • Launched July 2022
  • 36 questions
  • 75 responses from chief business officers and chief human resource officers
  • 36 large research, 24 regional private, 10 regional public, and five international institutions participated

Take the Survey

1. Invest in talent budgets and infrastructure today or risk incurring even greater long-term costs

Higher ed has historically had lower staff turnover rates than many other sectors. However, our survey data show that a full-time staff turnover rate of 10-20 percent became the norm for most institutions in FY22. As a result, many campus leadership teams have dealt with widespread staffing shortages, feeling stuck in a never-ending cycle of recruit-hire-turnover-repeat.

What is your best estimate for the turnover rate of full-time staff in FY22?


  • 27% responded “0-10%”
  • 63% responded “10-20%”
  • 7% responded “20+%”
  • 3% responded “don’t know”

Most institutional talent budgets don’t reflect this new reality, though. Half of the survey respondents said their institutions are budgeting the same or less on talent management and HR initiatives in FY23 as they were in FY15-19. In contrast, only 12% of institutions indicated they have significantly increased their budget allocation for talent management.

How does your institution’s anticipated budget allocation for talent management and HR initiatives in FY23 compare to the average allocations in years leading up to the pandemic (FY15-19)?


  • 12% responded “increased significantly (>15%)”
  • 38% responded “increased moderately (<15%)”
  • 44% responded “stayed the same”
  • 6% responded “decreased”

Given current staff turnover levels and heightened competition with out-of-sector employers, campus leaders must ensure their chief human resource officers (CHROs) and talent management teams have the capacity, technology, and resources needed to deploy staff recruitment and retention best practices.

Failing to invest in talent management and HR budgets now could cause institutions to incur even greater long-term costs associated with continuous staff churn. These include not only the direct costs of filling vacancies with new hires but also indirect costs like reduced productivity and service quality. Those, in turn, can negatively affect campus operations and the student experience, as well as result in the insufficient capacity to execute even higher-order strategic goals.

2. Strengthen your talent pipeline from within by promoting internal career mobility

Contrary to popular belief, recent CUPA-HR data show that most higher ed staff are more dissatisfied with career development and advancement opportunities than with compensation. But according to our survey data, less than a third of institutions have invested in career mobility strategies like skill development, leadership, or mentorship programs. In fact, 36% of respondents said they had not launched a single career development initiative since July 2021.

What initiatives related to career development has your institution tried since July 2021 to improve staff (non-instructional) recruitment and retention?


  • 23% responded “structured pathways for career advancement and internal mobility”
  • 32% responded “programs to help employees grow and diversify skills”
  • 30% responded “leadership programs for high potential staff”
  • 11% responded “staff mentoring programs”
  • 36% responded “none”

On top of underinvesting in career development initiatives, most institutions also overlook opportunities to hire current staff to fill vacancies. 41% of institutions said they filled less than 10% of staff vacancies with internal candidates in FY22. This is not only a missed opportunity to retain talented staff by providing them with the advancement opportunities they seek, but also to fill vacancies more quickly and cost-effectively.

What is your best estimate for full-time staff vacancies filled with internal candidates in FY22?


  • 41% responded “0-10%”
  • 20% responded “10-20%”
  • 14% responded “20-30%”
  • 10% responded “30+%”
  • 15% responded “don’t know”

Campus leaders can create a win-win situation for themselves and their staff by addressing structural barriers to internal career mobility and deploying practices with proven ROI, such as:

  • Adjusting hiring policies and procedures to prioritize and support internal applicants
  • Engaging in proactive succession planning and development, even for non-executive roles
  • Training managers to have regular career coaching conversations with direct reports

While many campus leaders hope that widespread staff vacancies and difficulty recruiting and retaining top talent are short-term issues attributable to the pandemic and “Great Resignation,” all signs suggest the opposite. For starters, there will be a predicted six-million-person deficit between labor supply and demand by 2028. Institutions therefore must begin planning and investing in their talent strategy and infrastructure now if they are going to be able to compete in the future.

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Brooke Thayer

Senior Director, Research Development

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