What the COACHE survey says about faculty satisfaction at Virginia Tech
More than 900 faculty members — half of all tenured, tenure-track, instructional, and clinical faculty — offered their opinions about working at Virginia Tech for the 2023 COACHE faculty satisfaction survey, representing the survey's highest response rate in 10 years.
Are faculty content? The short answer: Yes, more so than they were three years ago.
The most recent version of the triennial survey, administered in the spring, showed that faculty ratings have increased since 2020 in seven of the eight broad thematic categories studied by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE), a research center run out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
“With such a long-standing relationship with COACHE over the last 15 years, we have learned how valuable the information we received from this survey is,” said Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Rachel Gabriele, who co-led the Oct. 5 town hall to unveil the results with Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke and Faculty Senate President Joe Merola.
How the COACHE survey works
Virginia Tech has participated in the COACHE survey since 2007, allowing a longitudinal view of the changing perceptions of faculty over time.
Additionally, COACHE allows universities to select peers to act as a sample group for comparison. For the 2023 study, Virginia Tech's COACHE results were compared to those of five other universities: Iowa State, North Carolina State, Purdue, Rutgers, and University of Texas–Austin.
Results were also contextualized within a larger cohort group of 86 universities, including R1 land-grant universities, R2 universities, and Virginia universities such as George Mason, James Madison, and University of Virginia.
Together, the data provides a clear picture of how Virginia Tech faculty are doing compared to other faculty nationwide and compared to Virginia Tech faculty over the past 16 years.
Key takeaways from COACHE
Given the chance to do it all over, 69 percent of faculty agreed that they would choose to work at Virginia Tech again, a score that was consistent among the five peer universities — and slightly lower, at 67 percent, among the larger 86-university cohort.
By and large, Virginia Tech’s COACHE results trended upward, meaning faculty are more satisfied now than they were in 2020 in the following areas:
- Appreciation and recognition
- Cross-silo work and mentorship
- Institutional leadership
- Nature of work
- Resources and support
- Shared governance
- Tenure and promotion
Satisfaction declined only on measures of departmental collegiality, engagement, and quality. Nevertheless, questions about “the Department” scored the highest overall, with a mean of 3.64 on a 5-point Likert scale.
The lowest means, representing the lowest levels of satisfaction, were found in the categories of shared governance and appreciation and recognition.
Progress toward top 100 global
At the town hall, Clarke examined the COACHE results that reflected most directly on Virginia Tech’s quest to become a top 100 global university. “It’s relevant to our interest in the context of faculty recruitment and faculty retention, which is well aligned with our strategic interest,” he said.
- Virginia Tech, for instance, ranked top among its peers and cohort for the availability of course releases for research, an improvement since 2017, and in the top third relative to cohort schools in support for obtaining grants, support for securing grad student assistance, quality of grad students to support research, and support for research.
- Virginia Tech ranked in the bottom third relative to its five peer universities for support for maintaining grants and influence over focus of research.
- Faculty also ranked Virginia Tech in the bottom third compared to peers for “laboratory, research, and studio space.” “That’s a challenge for our institution,” agreed Clarke. “We have a lot of top-notch research space and have made significant capital investments that will further enhance that, but we need to continue to address studio space, particularly, for example, in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design.”
Clarke also addressed the university’s efforts to increase the representational diversity of students, faculty, and staff and foster an inclusive environment where individuals can thrive.
- Almost 78 percent of faculty strongly or somewhat agreed that there is visible leadership support for diversity.
- Fewer than half of respondents were satisfied with Virginia Tech’s efforts to recruit and retain a diverse faculty.
- About 55 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their own department’s efforts to recruit and retain a diverse faculty.
“I think we can appreciate that we are making progress,” said Clarke. “At the same time we have work to do.”
Best and worst
Faculty gave some of their highest marks to Virginia Tech’s work-life policies and perspectives, reporting strong levels of satisfaction with institutional support for family/career compatibility, family medical and parental leave, workload flexibility and modified duties policies, and health and retirement benefits.
As the best aspects of their employment at Virginia Tech, faculty indicated quality of colleagues, geographic location, academic freedom, support of colleagues, and quality of undergraduate students.
Meanwhile, the worst aspect of working at Virginia Tech was compensation — as it was for the peer and cohort groups in the COACHE data set. Merola noted that salary compression, where faculty salaries become less market competitive the longer someone stays at their institution, contributes to the problem and leaves some faculty feeling they are not compensated well.
The other worst aspects of Virginia Tech employment included quality of facilities, too much service/too many assignments, and unrelenting pressure to perform.
Can survey results really spur institutional change? The proof is in the number of programs and initiatives that have been inspired by COACHE data, including the Dependent Care Travel Grant program, the Pandemic Course Relief program, mid-career mentoring workshops, and other programming to support post-tenure faculty, all introduced by Faculty Affairs.
Clarke urged faculty members, departmental leaders, and college deans to examine the COACHE data more closely, in consultation with Gabriele and her team, and to plan incremental adjustments in response to what they learn. “This is an iterative process,” he said.
Indeed, the COACHE survey will make another appearance in 2026 to measure the results.
Faculty can watch a recording of the COACHE town hall meeting and explore the COACHE results dashboard at the Faculty Affairs website.