University-Based Centers TIG Week: The Benefits of Working at a University-Based Evaluation Center by Shannon Sharp

Hi AEA members! My name is Shannon Sharp, and I am an Evaluation Associate at the University of Mississippi’s Center for Research Evaluation (CERE). I have worked at this University-Based Evaluation center (UBC) for seven years, and in that time, I have come to realize that there are benefits—both professional and personal—to working within a university system that are often not available when working in other sectors.


The Institutional Review Board (IRB) is a facet of research and evaluation that is of upmost importance for ethical practice, especially when working with human subjects. Many funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF) require IRB review for human-subjects work. Most universities have an office that handles IRB approvals (at no extra cost).  

Access to Expertise

Evaluators often work on projects with topics outside their wheelhouse. Having a wide variety of experts in a range of fields within the various university departments and library system (Librarians know everything!!) allows evaluators to reach out and find support.


Universities (and their specific departments) often host free workshops for employees on a number of professional development topics. For evaluators, workshops on statistical procedures, data visualization techniques, applying for grants, etc. can be especially helpful.

Library Databases

When it’s time to do that literature search—whether you want to gain a better understanding of a project topic or you’re ready to write up your findings—university libraries have databases with everything you’ll need. Universities provide employees free access to media materials ranging from books to journals and more on every topic imaginable!

Paid Time Off

Professional benefits are great and all, but let’s talk about work-life balance—specifically, paid time off (PTO).  According to Forbes the average full-time US employee receives 8 days of vacation leave for their first year on the job (topping out at 16 days at 25 years) plus 7.6 holidays per year.

On the other hand, my employer, the University of Mississippi, provides employees 18 vacation days their first year (topping out at 27 days at 15 years) plus 15 holidays (including 2.5 days for Thanksgiving and 7.5 days for Christmas/New Years). That means that a University of Mississippi employee receives over 17 more paid days off in their first year and tops off at over 20 more days off than the average full-time US worker.


University employees are typically offered a matched 401k/403b plan and/or pension plan. The pension plan typically promises a percentage of the employee’s salary at retirement based on the number of years worked, while the 401k/403b is an investment plan whose contributions the university matches at a set rate. Though many companies offered pensions in the past, they are becoming more and more rare. Instead, most companies offer to match their employees’ 401k contributions, though typically at a lower rate than universities provide. For example, Fidelity Investments reports the average 401k contribution is 4.8% of the employee’s salary, while the University of Mississippi contributes 14.751%–roughly 10% more than the national average. Of course, self-employed evaluation consultants are responsible for their own retirement savings and receive no retirement plan matches.

Rad Resource

If you’re interested in learning more about UBCs, or even think you might want to work for one, here is a (non-exhaustive) list of University-Based Evaluation Centers based on information collected from AEA’s University-Based Centers (UBC) Topical Interest Group (TIG) and the AEA website. Feel free to add to or correct this list to keep it accurate and up to date.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting University-Based Centers (UBC) TIG week. All posts this week are contributed by members of the UBC Topical Interest Group. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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