Oh to be mid-level…and broke.

Thank you to @SylvesterGaskin for this contribution to the #SAMid series. “Moving on up” seems to always be an influence on mid-career and mid-level pros. But, finances and family are factors, too. Is the grass always greener?


As a young child, my father told me that if I worked hard and applied myself, then I would get a job that would pay me a lot of money. As a sergeant in the US Air Force, he was one to know about working hard yet not making a ton of cash. For all the work he did, it was the officers who raked in the large paychecks. As, a kid, I always remembered driving past the officers housing, with the large lawns and big patios, and comparing it to our sparse enlisted housing and thinking it wasn’t fair at all.

Once I got my first student affairs job, I was making the most money I had ever seen. Granted I was fresh out of grad school and living on a tiny monthly stipend, but I could afford actual groceries, pay for my health benefits, and put gas in my car when it needed it, not when I got paid. I could even (GASP!) take a vacation to somewhere non-exotic! And, I was told that if I applied myself and worked hard, especially if I got a Doctorate degree, in a few years I’d make a lot of money. Hell, even moving up to a mid-level position would pay more! I’ve been a mid-level professional for 3 years (after 2 years in an entry-level position and 4 years working in the K-12 sector), and I’m still waiting for that payday. I’m a doctoral student (done with coursework and typing the dissertation) and I’m hoping that once that’s done, that mystical payday will show up and I can live more comfortably than how I do now and not have so many worries about taking care of my family.

However, I have to be realistic and understand that our field is not engineering, law, or some other discipline where the pay is greater and the workload is heavy. I’ve overheard many a professional say that they didn’t get into student affairs “for the money,” and the same could be said for me. I truly enjoy my work and wouldn’t change it for the world. However, I think that our institutions use that to their advantage: since they know we are so dedicated to our work and some of us would do it for free, then there is no impetus to pay student affairs professionals comparative to their academic peers. We are, to a fault, selfless about our work and want the best for our students, so we may be willing to sacrifice our financial gain so students can have a positive experience, thinking our salary savings go directly into student services and programs. Only once we get to VP style levels will the pay significantly increase.

Because of this, decisions to either make a lateral move or advance have to factor in compensation packages. It’s no longer about the title or the type of work that needs to be done, but more about “will I be able to earn a decent wage that honestly reflects the amount of work I will do?” And each person will need to think about their own individual circumstances. For example, I’m locked into a specific geographical location that has plenty of institutions but positions are highly competitive once they come open. In addition, I am looking at purchasing my first house, so the next professional move has to ensure I can make the mortgage payment. There is a good amount of pressure to make the “right” move, both financially and professionally, and that brings on new levels of anxiety and strategy. There’s the concern that the next move would be great for my pocketbook but terrible for my overall career, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has these thoughts in this stage of life. I certainly didn’t have this worry as a new professional.

Being a mid-level professional has encompassed many factors that I didn’t need to think about when I was a new professional, including finances and family matters. It provides a lot of stress and some reflecting about why I got into this business.

For all the pessimism I may have about compensation, I still have a little faith that if I keep working hard and moving forward, that payday may come true, just like Dad told me.

Sylvester Gaskin

Sylvester is the Assistant Director of New Student Programs at Towson University in Maryland. In this role, he is responsible for assessment for all new student programming, student training and development, and long-range planning for future orientation programming. He is also responsible for working with the Towson University Family Network and fostering partnerships with the Freshmen Transfer Program.
Prior to arriving at Towson in June 2014, he served as an outreach coordinator at Iowa State University, where he focused on intentional programming for underrepresented communities and data assessment on retention and graduation rates. He also worked for Bay Area Community Resources, a non-profit organization involved in providing community based services to schools in Oakland, CA, and was responsible for student activities and transfer orientation at Macalester College in St. Paul, MN. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering and his Master of Education degree at Iowa State University. Sylvester is a professional member of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, the Association for Institutional Research, the National Orientation Directors Association, and Kappa Delta Pi-International Honors Society in Education. He is currently a Doctor of Education student (concentration in Higher Education Administration) at Northeastern University at their Seattle, WA graduate campus.

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