Beckman Auditorium on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, California
Courtesy of Caltech
Every June, Caltech in Pasadena, California holds an awards ceremony that honors hundreds of employees who have achieved milestone work anniversaries ranging from 10 to 45 years. The event was held at the college’s distinguished Beckman Auditorium, a one-of-a-kind event circular building framed by elegant modern columns, it is always full of colleagues, family and friends.
The gathering is large, but the university is relatively small, with a total of only 3,500 staff and 2,400 students. So even though Caltech is world-renowned for its science and engineering education, cutting-edge research, Nobel Prize winners, and world-class laboratories and observatories, employees still enjoy an intimate and familiar campus.
“People really have a community here,” says Kylene Barker, director of Employment and Recruiting Services at Caltech, “and they stay with Caltech.”
For these reasons and more, Caltech earned the top spot on Forbes’ list of America’s Best Midsize Employers 2023.
To compile the list, Forbes partnered with market research firm Statista to survey about 45,000 workers at American companies and institutions with anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 employees. Participants were asked if they would recommend their current employers to friends and family (on a scale of 0 to 10) and to name any other employers they would recommend. The final list ranks the 500 companies that received the most recommendations.
Caltech was one of several universities that topped the list, including Cleveland State (#10) and Syracuse (#29).
A surprise in the education sector, however, was that elementary and secondary schools also made their mark. For example, Olathe Public Schools, in Olathe, Kansas, just southwest of Kansas City, ranked 12th.
A teacher gives a math lesson at a school in Olathe.
Courtesy of Olathe Public Schools
While many teachers across the country are still reeling from the tough years of remote (and later hybrid) learning, as the pandemic forced school systems to upend their in-person education model, Olathe’s teachers are feeling encouraged and motivated.
Just like Caltech, the school district’s world-class resources along with a strong sense of community have helped drive its success. Not only are Olathe students thriving, outperforming the national and state average on standardized tests and qualifying for more than $45 million in postsecondary scholarships for 2022 graduates, but teachers are also learning for themselves.
The district offers programs such as professional development days with visiting speakers; a three-day new teacher academy before each school year; designated mentors for teachers; and instructional coaches who work with teachers who change grades or subjects. “We are unique in that we are really strategic in providing that specific support when we have these kinds of teacher transitions,” says Lachelle Sigg, Ed.D., associate superintendent of human resources at Olathe Public Schools.
In addition, Olathe Public Schools offers continuing education opportunities for teachers, with university partnerships to help Olathe staff members earn advanced degrees. Some courses are also offered directly on the district campus. Sigg taught a graduate program last fall for Olathe educators pursuing a master’s degree in education administration.
At Caltech, faculty also have ample room to pursue their interests and grow. They can do this through the institution’s interdisciplinary research centers, which support powerful collaborations between departments. This model is not standard at many universities, where departments typically compete with each other for research funding.
“You really see divisions working together to drive meaningful projects forward,” Barker says. With one of the lowest student-to-faculty ratios in the country (3:1), students often participate in research, which not only enhances student learning but also enriches research.
Beyond prestigious research, Barker says, Caltech attracts and retains employees through competitive salaries and health benefits, tuition reimbursement, hybrid work options, and an emphasis on work-life balance. Also hugely in its favor: The university is located on the beautiful Pasadena campus with great weather year-round.
Although seemingly very different employers, Caltech and Olathe Public Schools represent the best mid-sized organizations, where employees have access to high-quality offerings often reserved for large companies while maintaining the close ties typical of smaller institutions.
“That makes this a great place you want to come to work every day,” says Sigg. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
Forbes has partnered with market research firm Statista to compile our list of the best midsize employers in America. The ranking is based on a survey of approximately 45,000 workers in American companies and institutions with between 1,000 and 5,000 employees. Participants were asked if they would recommend their current employers to friends and family (on a scale of 0 to 10) and to name any other employers they would recommend. The final list ranks the 500 large employers that received the most alerts.