The Eroding Faculty Paycheck

April 24, 2006

The average faculty salary increased by 3.1 percent in 2005-6 -- a year in which the inflation rate was 3.4 percent, according to data released today by the American Association of University Professors.

That makes this year the second straight in which faculty members have lost spending power over the course of a year. And this two-year stretch of falling behind inflation is the first such repeat in inflation outpacing raises since 1981.

A report on salaries, by Saranna Thornton, an economist at Hampden-Sydney College and chair of the AAUP’s Committee on the Economic Status of the Profession, speculates that many colleges may not have accurately projected the rate of inflation. Her report urges colleges to consider this issue more carefully in the future, and warns that allowing salaries to fall behind will hurt the ability to attract professorial talent.

The AAUP compared figures for faculty salaries with those of other professions that attract highly educated people -- and the picture isn’t pretty. While professors know that physicians and lawyers earn more money, they may not realize how the gaps are growing. Between 1986 and 2005, the percentage change in real salaries for faculty members increased by 0.27 percent. The increases were substantially larger for engineers (4.68 percent), lawyers (17.73 percent), and physicians (34.41 percent). For good measure, the AAUP also notes that average salaries of college presidents and the average size of college endowments have also outpaced increases in professors’ pay.

As the data from the AAUP make clear, the salary picture for professors varies widely depending on where and in what capacity someone works. The average increase for continuing faculty was 4.4 percent, outpacing inflation. The gaps between elite and non-elite colleges are such that there is no one real category of faculty pay.

The average for full professors is $172,800 at Rockefeller University, and five institutions (all private) have six-figure averages for associate professors. But salaries like that are not typical. The average salary for one professor at Rockefeller or Harvard or Princeton Universities would pay for the average salaries of three associate professors at a community college or three assistant professors at a baccalaureate institution.

Rockefeller has the highest pay for full professors this year, while the University of California at Los Angeles leads for public institutions, Wellesley College for liberal arts institutions, and Westchester Community College for community colleges. The California Institute of Technology leads in the rankings for average associate and assistant professor salaries. (Some tables with the highest and lowest salaries appear at the end of this article.)

The following table shows averages for different types of institutions and ranks. The community college averages are based only on those institutions with faculty ranks.

Average Salaries of Professors, by Rank and Institution Type, 2006-6

Institution Type/Rank Average Salary 1-Year % Change
Doctoral -- public    
--Professor $101,620 +3.9%
--Associate professor     70,952 +3.7%
--Assistant professor     60,440 +3.8%
Doctoral -- private independent    
--Professor $131,292 +4.4%
--Associate professor     84,419 +3.5%
--Assistant professor     71,877 +3.0%
Doctoral -- private church-related    
--Professor $113,740 +3.8%
--Associate professor     77,409 +3.9%
--Assistant professor     65,286 +3.9%
Master's -- public    
--Professor $78,884 +2.7%
--Associate professor  62,700 +2.6%
--Assistant professor  52,873 +3.0%
Master's -- private independent    
--Professor $88,800 +3.4%
--Associate professor  67,148 +3.2%
--Assistant professor  54,996 +2.8%
Master's -- private church-related    
--Professor $78,379 +3.3%
--Associate professor  62,208 +3.2%
--Assistant professor  51,411 +3.5%
Baccalaureate -- public    
--Professor $73,406 +2.9%
--Associate professor  59,913 +3.0%
--Assistant professor  49,546 +2.7%
Baccalaureate -- private independent    
--Professor $87,779 +3.3%
--Associate professor  64,846 +3.6%
--Assistant professor  53,083 +4.0%
Baccalaureate -- private church-related    
--Professor $66,547 +3.9%
--Associate professor  55,402 +3.5%
--Assistant professor  45,873 +2.8%
Community colleges -- public    
--Professor $66,011 +3.0%
--Associate professor  53,405 +2.8%
--Assistant professor  47,116 +2.3%

The data from the AAUP draw attention to the gap that has grown between public and private salaries. Historically in the United States, the gap hasn’t been large -- and ambitious public institutions were able to attract top talent. At the doctoral level, this enabled top institutions to have graduate programs and research centers that could compete in selected areas with the Ivies and other top private institutions.

Increasingly, that is not the case. In 2004-5, public salaries of full professors equaled 77 percent of average private salaries at doctoral institutions, 91 percent at master’s institutions, and 83 percent at baccalaureate institutions. For assistant professors -- a key comparison because it affects the initial entry point to academic careers -- the percentages are 83 percent at doctoral institutions, 97 percent at master’s institutions, and 94 percent at baccalaureate institutions. As recently as 1990-91, pay for assistant professors was better at public institutions than at privates at the master’s and baccalaureate levels.

The AAUP study notes many ways in which its data may not reflect the situation of individuals in various sectors or at various institutions. The data collected are from full-time faculty members, even though a growing proportion of faculty members work part time. Cost of living obviously varies widely in the United States, and many institutions at the top of the salary lists are in expensive urban areas, so plenty of faculty members who work at institutions further down the list, and in less expensive areas, enjoy the ability to have nicer homes and may have more cash in their retirement accounts.

The AAUP data also do not focus on disciplines. Cary Nelson, the new president of the AAUP, said in an interview last week that he would like to see the survey find ways to reflect disciplinary gaps. (The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources releases data that compares salaries by discipline, but that does not contain information on individual institutions.) To the extent that disciplinary gaps exist, they affect not only individuals, but averages for institutions, since those with many faculty members in business may have larger averages than those that have many classics professors.

Institutional Rankings

Among private research universities, compared to last year, the California Institute of Technology fell from No. 6 to 8, with Yale and the University of Pennsylvania each moving up a notch. Columbia University, which was ninth last year, did not submit figures this year.

Top 10 Private Research Universities in Average Salary for Full Professor

University Average Salary
1. Rockefeller University $172,800
2. Harvard University $168,700
3. Princeton University $156,800
4. Stanford University $156,200
5. University of Chicago $155,100
6. Yale University $151,200
7. University of Pennsylvania $149,900
8. California Institute of Technology $147,800
9. Yeshiva University $144,200
10. New York University $144,000

Among public universities with the highest average salaries for full professors, there was relatively little movement. The State University of New York's Health Sciences Center at Brooklyn fell out of the top 10 while Rutgers University at New Brunswick made the cut. With that addition, New Jersey has three universities in the public top 10 (as does California).

Top 10 Public Research Universities in Average Salary for Full Professor

University Average Salary
1. University of California at Los Angeles $128,400
2. New Jersey Institute of Technology $128,000
3. University of California at Berkeley $126,200
4. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor $125,600
5. Georgia Institute of Technology $123,600
6. University of Maryland at Baltimore $123,300
7. University of Virginia $123,100
8. Rutgers University at Newark $118,800
9. University of California at San Diego $118,100
10. Rutgers University at New Brunswick $116,800

Among liberal arts colleges, the top salaries are found at institutions in the Northeast or in Southern California.

Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges in Average Salary for Full Professor

College Average Salary
1. Wellesley College $123,100
2. Pomona College $121,700
3. Barnard College $120,300
4. Amherst College $119,300
5. Swarthmore College $118,200
6. Williams College $116,900
7. (tie) Harvey Mudd College $116,400
7. (tie) Middlebury College $116,400
9. Claremont McKenna College $115,700
10. Wesleyan University $115,400

Among community colleges, comparisons of institutions are more difficult because only some two-year institutions have faculty ranks. Among those that do, however, the Big Apple is the place to be. Six of the top 10 are in the City University of New York, while one other is in nearby Westchester County, and two are in New Jersey.

Top 10 Community Colleges in Average Salary for Full Professor

College Average Salary
1. Westchester Community College $95,100
2. Gloucester County College $94,000
3. Miami U. (Ohio) at Hamilton $90,600
4. Union County College $89,900
5. Queensborough Community College $89,200
6. Hostos Community College $87,200
7. LaGuardia Community College $86,700
8. Borough of Manhattan Community College $85,300
9. (tie) Bronx Community College $84,300
9. (tie) Kingsborough Community College $84,300

While six-figure salaries have become the norm for full professors at top public and private universities, six-figure averages are just starting to show up at the associate professor rank, and they are not visible at the assistant level.

Six-Figure Average Salaries for Associate Professors

Institution Average Salary
1. California Institute of Technology $106,500
2. Stanford University $106,100
3. Babson College $103,000
4. Thomas M. Cooley Law School $101,300
5. University of Pennsylvania $100,700

Of the top 10 universities in average salary for assistant professor, all are private except one, the University of Texas at Dallas.

Top 10 Institutions in Average Salary for Assistant Professor

Institution Average Salary
1. California Institute of Technology $96,800
2. University of Pennsylvania $88,100
3. Harvard University $87,300
4. Babson College $87,200
5. Stanford University $86,900
6. Cornell University (endowed colleges) $82,900
7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology $82,700
8. University of Texas at Dallas $82,400
9. Northwestern University $81,200
10. Carnegie Mellon University $80,500

The institutions that have the lowest salaries for full professors tend to be, like those that pay the highest, private institutions. Many on the low end of the pay scale are religious.

Bottom 20 Four-Year Institutions in Average Salary for a Full Professor

Institution Average Salary
1. Naropa University $28,000
2. Union College (Ky.) $35,700
3. Bethany (Kan.) $38,600
4. Anna Maria College $39,100
5. Tabor College $39,300
6. Walla Walla College $39,500
7. St. Paul's College (Va.) $39,700
8. Toccoa Falls College $41,400
9. Tennessee Wesleyan College $42,100
10. College of the Southwest $42,400
11. Crichton College $42,500
12. Ohio Valley College $42,700
13. Kentucky Christian University $43,100
14. Oklahoma Wesleyan University $45,100
15. Antioch College $45,300
16. Kansas Wesleyan University $45,400
17. Missouri Valley College $45,600
18. (tie) Bryan College $46,000
18. (tie) MacMurray College $46,000
20. Concordia University (Oregon) $46,300

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