The Fall of our Content?---November 2006 Staff Newsletter

Sunday, November 26, 2006 4:42 PM | Allie Maloney

The Fall of our Content?

Toby Harper, NIA President

The mission of the NIA is to communicate and advocate instructor views,

working within the NOLS community to promote the school's mission and values.

It was great to see some of you at the “state of the school” and board meetings in Lander a few weeks ago.  For those of you who couldn t make it, the committee meetings offered great discussions, and officially the world's largest cookies, good times!

So as NOLS embarks on its 42nd year, with the current capital campaign wrapping up, a diversity initiative gathering speed, and new employee survey results being released, it's an exciting time to keep our heads up and involved as instructors at the school.

Looking back

In various presentations at the recent Lander meetings, the school s directors noted that in 2006 we:

∑ educated a record number of students,

∑ completed the majority of our renovation of the Noble Hotel,

∑ and exceeded our financial goals.

Additionally, the finance folks reported that in the past year:

∑ NOLS grew 5.6%, for a net asset change $1,285,000 (this is actually $677,000 in cash, see my recent post on the NIA members Yahoo site

∑ NOLS Pro has grown 45% over the year.

∑ Our one-year fuel expenditure increase was 33% (2 year was 72%).

I think it's important to note that without the Annual Fund and some return on our Endowment Fund, NOLS would be losing money.  This is normal for higher education institutions; most American universities would not get by on tuition alone, we depend on philanthropy.

Survey results

So the big news at NOLS, from an employee perspective, is that some of the results from the survey we took this summer have been released.

In 2006, 477 (out of over 800) staff completed the survey; this is compared to 438 (out of 762) in 2003.  Based on 2005 total staff numbers (which are 6% higher than in 2003):

∑ 57.5% of employees filled out the 2003 survey.

∑ 58.3% of employees filled out the 2006 survey.

∑ 51% of instructors filled it out in 2003.

∑ 48% of instructors filled out the survey this year.

This is participation we can be proud of; now what did we say?  In his presentation, NOLS Board of Trustees chair Fred Kleisner made an important link between staff satisfaction and program quality.  While we are waiting for results broken down by work unit (Field Instructors, HQ staff, location staff ) the overall results are posted on Rendezvous.  At risk of repeating them, and the Human Resources article in this Newsletter:

∑ NOLS employee satisfaction with, and commitment to, their work is higher than the national average.

∑ NOLS employees are also happy with their well-defined responsibilities, and this time around are happier with their job security.

∑ This being said, NOLS is still relatively weak on job security, pay, and benefits (though this did improve slightly relative to 2003).

∑ We have actually dropped, since 2003, in employee contentment with their involvement in decisions, and our desire to stay with the school.

∑ While we improved on over half of items on the survey, pay is still the big one below the national average.

∑ In a comparison with other non-profit we are below the average for “My needs are satisfied by the benefit I receive.” by a statistical difference of -0.94.  Our strongest score was +0.79 for “I am proud to tell people I work for this organization”.

Some comments I heard from NIA members regarding the survey, and its initial results:

∑ Over 20% of instructors “turn over” in a year, which means many of the folks who responded this summer didn t take the last survey.

∑ While almost everyone would ideally like their pay to be tied to their performance, this is really challenging to measure in an education context, and instructors vary widely in their contentment with our current Merit Pay program.

∑ Some Field Instructors found they had a hard time answering questions related to “the person I report to” because they feel this role is often shared between Course Leaders, Program Supervisors, and Staffing Coordinators.

A new Staff Recruitment, Development and Retention committee is being formed to follow up on the results of this latest survey.  The NIA will have a dedicated representative on the committee, in addition to two or three other instructor representatives.  The committee will first meet at the end of November.

The last of the last SRDR committee recommendations are in the budget for this year, they include:

∑ a 13 week health insurance reimbursement threshold for 0-5 week instructors if they take a seminar and work in their prime season,

∑ and a 4% payroll budget increase.

Many instructors ask, “How significant is this relative to inflation?”  Though it depends on your seniority level, if you got the average pay raise over the last three years, compounded it amounts to 2.8% above inflation.  This is very significant if we can sustain it.

NIA insiders

NIA membership is flat this year, with about 220 current members, about 90 through 2007, and a couple of dozen more through 2008.  Over 100 memberships will expire at the end of this December, please check to see if you re one of them.  If you work at least every two years please consider a two or three year membership, they re more efficient for everyone.  To give you an idea:

∑ The NIA needs to have about 300 members every year to break even.

∑ If we fall short of this goal we need to dip into savings, which means we are a less resilient organization in the future.

∑ This winter we are also planning to contribute partial travel expenses for the NIA representative who represents members on the SRDR committee.

The NIA board members you have already elected through 2007 are:

∑ Jaime Musnicki

∑ Pat Mettenbrink

∑ Jake McArthur

∑ Jake Freed

∑ Sarah Annarella

Please re-elect the other half of the board by taking the poll on the Yahoo site

∑ Frederik Norsell (New Zealand representative)

∑ Diego Allolio (South American representative)

∑ Mike Clelland (membership driver/Teton Valley representative)

∑ Matt Lloyd (treasurer)

∑ Les Van Barselaar (Mexico representative)


∑ Tomas Amodio (new for 2007-2008)

∑ Alison Frost (“”)

Vote today!

Hey, we re missing candidates for the NIA presidency (to replace me).  If you re interested in exercising a different mode of leadership at NOLS, writing reports, attending meetings, staying on top of issues at the school and managing the NIA, please contact us.  There has historically been a stipend of $5000 per year for this responsibility.  The term is generally two years, but this is flexible.

Domestic diversity

Overall diversity at NOLS has decreased since 2001.  The present goal of the latest diversity initiative means tripling the 2005 number of domestic students of color, and multiplying similar instructor diversity tenfold, over the next five years.  The “why” of this initiative has been clearly answered:

∑ Diversity is directly related to supporting the NOLS mission.  By growing and diversifying we educate more, and more varied, students.  Diversifying our student population makes the school more powerful from a public policy perspective, makes us more sustainable from a marketing perspective, and increases the quality of the individual student experience.

We've made great progress on the Women's Initiative through the leadership of Allison Bergh (winner of one of this year's staff awards, congratulations!).  We've hired the Diversity Manager position dedicated to diversity. Tania Tam will  serve in that role and Linda Lindsey is now Human Resources and Diversity Director.  With new budgets, and new collaborations with the Board of Trustees, we are in a good to position to address the diversity challenge at NOLS.

Fun facts:

∑ There were 535 working Field Instructors in 2006.

∑ The average age of a NOLS instructor is 34.

∑ 39% of instructors are female.


What are the most important issues at NOLS for you?  Do you have an opinion on banning chewing tobacco in the field, do you have ideas to share about the flatness of enrollment in our regular summer courses and the relative skyrocketing of our NOLS Pro business, how could NOLS be a greener institution, are you an NIA member, why or why not?  If you are, check out the great discussion happening right now on the Yahoo site about NOLS involvement with the US military.

As always, the above report reflects the views of the NIA board which attempts to represent our membership.  Please do not hesitate to contact me directly with your comments or questions.  

Toby Harper

Think creatively.

Act collectively.

Join the NIA.

The mission of the NIA is to communicate and advocate instructor views and to work within the NOLS community to promote the school's mission and values

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