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Expedition Instructor Pay

The NIA applauds the budgetary efforts that resulted in major compensation increases for field staff during the last strategic plan. Today travel reimbursement, strategic underemployment, and job security are more pressing issues than per diem pay rates. We see our role as helping to establish a long-term vision, rather than a short-term demand, for improving compensation. This vision would openly accept the role of compensation in educational excellence.

With this in mind, the NIA calls for a stated long-term goal of a living wage for all employees and a middle-class income for senior faculty and staff, without reference to the low comparables in U.S. outdoor education. Faculty would feel deeply valued and supported by the school’s adopting an aggressive goal in this area, even if that goal may not be met for many years.

Read more about what this might look like at NOLS in our 2020 Living Wage Position Paper

The staffing crisis of 2007 saw many hard-to-replace senior faculty leave in order to make more money elsewhere. The NIA played a key role in the cumulative 28% compensation increase for field instructors that started in 2008 in part as a response to the travails of the previous summer. The NIA helped to turn a high level of frustration and negativity on the part of faculty into drastic and appropriate action on pay by the NOLS administration within a year. The role of compensation in staff excellence was also recognized as a goal of the 2008-2013 Strategic Plan, and faculty enjoyed repeated increases of 6-7% per year during the height of the global recession. These successes were significant.

At the same time, at the 2014 pay scale, a base level PL working 25 weeks per year would make only $14,000, which is only $3,200 above the Federal Poverty Line. A Senior Staff Level III faculty member working 25 weeks a year, all at CL rates, would make $25,844, which is about 60% of the national average wage index ($44,321). Neither would receive any retirement support, and would lose several thousand dollars per year to travel cost overruns.

The NIA recognizes that almost all part- and full-time instructors either supplement their income with ad-hoc second careers, which they take on substantially to support their work at NOLS, or reduce their expenses in drastic and unconventional ways, usually by not having any permanent housing. In this way, NOLS instructors make sacrifices far outside of the financial and cultural norms of our society to support the school’s mission and to do a job we love. We recognize that this has been the reality in outdoor education in the U.S. since its inception, and will only change as funding and social support for our work changes. The NIA’s position is that both as an organization that cares for its people, and as a leader in its field, NOLS should formally commit to a long-term goal of a living wage for new faculty and staff and a middle-class income for senior faculty and staff.

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