The Impact of Unionization on University Performance

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Key Message: Unionization lowers costs and increases universities’ performance. 

A recent wide-ranging study by Kent State University professor Mark Cassell explored the impact of unionization on a University. He concluded that faculty unions benefit students and keep costs down by focusing on the classroom. Cassell writes:

“What impact does unionization have on university performance? The empirical analysis included several measures of university performance that reflected values of efficiency and effectiveness. Based on the experience of 432 public four-year institutions over 23 years, I find that unionization improves efficiency and effectiveness. Unionization contributes to lower budgets, higher graduation rates, and a greater number of degrees and completions.”

Key Messages:

• There is no link between faculty unions and rising tuition. The evidence suggests that faculty unions help universities refocus back on the classroom, containing costs and improving outcomes for students. The study revealed that “a positive change in the union status of a university on average reduces a university’s direct educational costs and core expenses.”

• The analysis finds little support for the view that unions hinder a university’s effectiveness. In fact, unionization is better for students: “unionization is positively associated with graduate rates, degrees awarded and completions and the relationship is statistically significant.”

There is no link between adjunct wages and rising tuition. If there was, tuition would be going down.

The study revealed that “a positive change in the union status of a university on average reduces a university’s direct educational costs and core expenses.”

Revenues at all types of degree-granting institutions have steadily increased in the last two decades, with private institutions showing more gain than public institutions. However, in both the private and public sectors, the proportion of total spending going toward the direct cost of instruction through faculty salaries has declined. Colleges and University administrators have decided to spend heavily outside the classroom, investing less in the core mission of instruction – faculty unions counter this trend.

Unions help center institutions on the core mission – teaching – and keep non-instructional budgets in check.

Mark Cassell: “The central hypothesis is that unionized institutions faculty play a more central role in managing the university. Indeed, much of what is negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement centers on issues of governance. Thus, in unionized institutions I expect a higher percentage of the education-related budget to be devoted to instruction than in non-unionized institutions. Relatedly, in unionized institutions I expect a lower percentage of the education-related budget to be devoted to administration than in non-unionized institutions.” And indeed he found: “Unionization leads universities to emphasize instruction over administration.”

Click here to see Mark Cassell’s full study.