Data and Research

Higher Ed. Institution Retirement Plan Designs Changing

According to “Retirement Plans for Institutions of Higher Education,” nearly half of institutions are sponsoring a 401(k) plan.

By Rebecca Moore | March 17, 2016
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The era of non-ERISA 403(b) multi-provider arrangements is going away in the higher education market, according to research from Transamerica Retirement Solutions.

The firm contends that change is happening as plans partner with an adviser or consultant. Greater workforce mobility between corporate and higher education among researchers and staff, the rise of the for-profit higher education sector, and economic pressure to streamline retirement benefits also contribute to the trend.

According to “Retirement Plans for Institutions of Higher Education,” for the first time, fewer than two-thirds of institutions are sponsoring a 403(b) plan, and nearly half (46%) are sponsoring a 401(k) plan. The percentage of institutions offering plans based on individual contracts only has dropped to 40%.

Today, nearly half (48%) of plans in higher education identify themselves as Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) plans. Two-thirds of institutions rely on one exclusive provider for their plan. Only 24% recognize their program as a non-ERISA arrangement.

The long tradition of universal availability of 403(b) plan salary deferrals impacts the design of all defined contribution plans at higher education institutions. At more than half (55%) of the higher education institutions, employees are eligible to make salary deferrals immediately upon hire.

Many institutions in 2015 allowed part-time staff and faculty to participate in their plans for the first time as they implement new age and service eligibility requirements—often in conjunction with the introduction of a new 401(k) plan. Age 21 is now the most common requirement for plan entry—at 39% of plans. Immediate eligibility for employer contributions is no longer the norm (offered by only 44% of institutions). Three in ten plans offer non-elective employer contributions and an additional 25% offer matching contributions, often up to 10% of pay.

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