After enduring nearly a decade of salary freezes, staff layoffs, benefits cuts, and struggles to pay their ever-increasing expenses, full-time college and university faculty in the U.S. finally are earning salaries within $100, on average, of pre-Great Recession levels, according to the new special salary issue of the NEA Higher Education Advocate.
The reason? As state economies have recovered, many states (no, not you, Illinois…) are re-investing public funds in higher education, understanding its key role in preparing their future teachers, scientists, IT professionals, and more. (By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs in the U.S. economy will require postsecondary education.)
Forty states in 2017 increased state funding to higher education—2.7 percent on average, on top of a 4.1 percent average increase the year before. Notably, Hawaii increased its investment by 10.5 percent in 2017, and Virginia by 10.3 percent. Obvious exceptions are Illinois, where Gov. Bruce Rauner hasn’t funded higher education at all in nearly two years, and also New Mexico, where Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed all higher education funding this spring.
These upward trends are a good thing—but the Advocate’s salary analysis shows that not all faculty are benefiting equally. Last year, average salaries for “no rank” faculty declined 11 percent, on top of a 2 percent decline the previous year. In general, contingent or adjunct faculty remain woefully underpaid, even as their numbers on campuses increase.
Wondering where faculty are best paid? (Look to the big-city schools in the University of California system.) Wondering who makes the least? (Community college faculty in so-called “right to work” states apparently have the “right to work for less.”) The special salary issue, an annual project of the Advocate, in conjunction with Coffey Consulting and NEA Research, includes average salary data from every public college and university in the U.S.
Other interesting findings include:
- The gender gap persists! In 2016, women faculty at U.S. public institutions earned an average of 84 percent of men’s salaries. That is $71,291, on average, for women, compared to $85,233 for men. The gap is widest at doctoral institutions, and smallest at community colleges.
- Faculty at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) also tend to be paid less than faculty at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs.) For example, full professors at Florida A&M University (FAMU) earn an average $92,000 a year, making them the lowest paid among the 11 state universities. In fact, even though FAMU is a “Research 2: Doctoral Institution,” putting it in the second highest grouping in the Carnegie classification system, its faculty earn less, on average, than the highest paid community college faculty in the state.
- If you think there are more administrators around…you’re right. While instructional staff hires increased 22 percent between 2012 and 2015, the number of new hires in business and financial operations increased 55 percent, and in student and academic affairs by 88 percent.
- The increased reliance on contingent academic labor means more non-tenured faculty—and also many more graduate assistants. In just one year, the number of graduate assistants in the U.S. increased by 10 percent, totaling 370,000 in 2015. The majority were teaching assistants (50 percent), followed by research assistants (37 percent.) Make no mistake: This is cheap labor. The average stipend for graduate assistants in 2015 was $16,144.