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Murray State regents approve raises for most employees following compensation study

Digital Media Murray State

Most faculty and staff members at Murray State University will receive pay increases in the coming years, following the results of a compensation review study.

The far western Kentucky institution’s board of regents unanimously approved on Friday a plan to better compensate employees whose incomes were deemed below market rate in the Evergreen Solutions study commissioned by the school.

Murray State Director of Human Resources Courtney Hixon said the university wanted to address “external and internal equity” with this compensation study – which university officials partly detailed earlier this spring – and aims to better compensate faculty and staff as “a recruitment and retention effort.”

Courtney Hixon
Courtney Hixon

During her presentation, Hixon said that just under 62% of staff and around 52% of faculty will see pay increases starting this summer. Some employees could receive as much as a 15% increase in pay over a multi-year implementation, depending on how they’re compensated relative to market rate based on study results.

The average total increase is expected to be a little more than $5,700 for faculty members and $3,800 for staff. One-third of the total increase will be reflected in employees’ Fiscal Year 25 pay. The anticipated university cost for adjustments is expected to be $3.7 million. Hicks said the timeline for the other two-thirds of the adjustment is yet to be determined.

The board also approved an increase to minimum hourly pay for staff from $10.10 per hour to $13.50, which Hicks said could take some staffers above a 15% raise in total.

Any employee getting a total adjustment of $500 or less will receive the entire amount in FY25.

Individualized information regarding compensation adjustments will be distributed next week through the university’s human relations website when employees’ annual contracts are renewed.

These pay increases come in addition to a 2% cost of living adjustment, or COLA, that also passed with the university’s FY25 budget on Friday. It’s estimated to cost $1.4 million for the school to apply the COLA to all employees.

Compensation study methodology

Jeff Ling, the president of the consulting company, led the board through a presentation on the study’s findings, its methodology and its recommended actions.

In order to gauge how well MSU’s faculty and staff are compensated, Evergreen Solutions engaged in direct communications with nine similar institutions around the region to get the pay rates of employees across different departments, disciplines and administrative levels that could then be directly compared to their counterparts at Murray State.

Institutions that participated in the study included Eastern Illinois University, Eastern Kentucky University, Southeastern Missouri University, Southern Illinois University, University of Northern Iowa and University of Tennessee at Martin. Middle Tennessee State University, University of Southern Indiana and Tennessee State University provided only faculty data.

The primary data – which Ling said had been adjusted for cost-of-living differences – indicated that 80% of the university’s staff and 25% of its faculty is paid below market, meaning the remaining 75% of faculty and 20% of staff are compensated at or above market rate.

Secondary data from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR) was also utilized in the study through MSU’s membership in the group. Ling said this data had a larger sample size and was “more reliable” across disciplines.

CUPA statistics indicated that 51% of faculty and 60% of staff receive below market compensation.

To conclude his presentation, Ling gave his consulting group’s recommendations for bringing more employees to market rate pay to the board. For faculty, these included the creation of pay plan structures using pay grades assigned with variable ranges that place individuals salaries’ based on time spent in the position, market rates and other factors. His recommendations did not include salary decreases for any position.

Evergreen Solutions’ recommendations for the university staff’s compensation included raising the minimum hourly pay, utilizing larger pay ranges for positions to allow for pay increases over time without changes in position and increasing some employees’ salaries by as much as 15%.

Hicks expects a second phase of compensation reviews to address the school’s administrators.

Other business

The university’s budget received no opposition during the meeting, passing unanimously. Murray State’s budget for FY25 is up $7.5 million over the previous year.

Regent and finance committee chair Dr. Robbie Fitch attributed the budget bump to the approved COLA adjustment as well as the compensation reviews and increased pay, academic program growth, deferred maintenance and the school’s continued transition into the Missouri Valley Conference athletics.

Fitch also noted that the university’s housing rates will increase by 4.75% and the dining rates by 5.2%. These adjustments, he said, are intended to cover increases in staffing and other costs in those departments. These university services are outsourced to third-parties who are responsible for covering their own operational cost increases.

Faculty regent Melony Shemberger called it “an impressive budget” that “balances everything” while “trying to be progressive” and listening to the concerns of employees and students.

Jordan Smith, the university’s executive director of governmental and institutional relations, provided a breakdown of the year’s funding session, which he called the most successful “in recent memory.”

Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith

Smith said the school is set to receive multiple seven-digit appropriations for new facilities on campus, including $60 million for a new veterinary sciences building, $38 million for a learning commons with a housing component and $10 million for its Cyber Education and Research Center. This comes in addition to a base appropriation of $52.8 million for FY24-25 and $56.2 million for FY25-26.

Murray State’s athletics director Nico Yantko’s contract was also extended through 2028 during the meeting. Several other university coaches also received contract extensions of various lengths, including head women’s basketball coach Rechelle Turner, head men’s golf coach Jacob Miller, head baseball coach Dan Skirka, head rifle coach Alan Lollar and head women’s tennis coach Jorge Caetano.

Outgoing student regent Ellie McGowan and Virginia Gray, the outgoing vice chair of the board, each received resolutions of appreciation. MSU Student Government Association advisor Jeanie Morgan – who is retiring after 47 years with the school – also received a resolution.

Newly elected student regent Brendan Hawkins will join the board at its next meeting.

Board officers were elected at the tail end of the lengthy meeting. Leon Owens was unanimously reelected as board chair. Gray provided the sole nomination to fill her vice chair role in the coming Fiscal Year, naming regent Robbie Fitch. He received unanimous approval. Jill Hunt will retain her role as board secretary and Jackie Dudley, the university’s vice president of finance, will stay on as board treasurer.

The entire June 7 meeting of the Murray State Board of Regents can be streamed on YouTube.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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