For most faculty members, this academic year will be one of eroding purchasing power, according to the annual study of salaries being released today by the American Association of University Professors.
The average salary for continuing faculty members increased by 1.4 percent in 2010-11, just under the rate of inflation, the study finds -- making this year the second in a row in which faculty members will on average lose ground economically.
To those who might hope that an economic recovery exists and is having an impact on faculty salaries, the report's title -- "It's Not Over Yet"  -- makes clear the AAUP's take on the issue.
"The overall picture this year, then, is of mostly stagnant salaries for full-time faculty members," the report says. "The numbers vary considerably across institutional types. But aggregate faculty salary levels did not keep up with inflation in the past year, and the cumulative increase during the last seven years lagged behind the cumulative increase in median earnings for all U.S. workers."
Indeed the variation in pay stands out. The average salary of full professors at Harvard University (which pays better than anyone else at that level) is approaching $200,000, and the average salary for assistant professors there tops $100,000. One state and a world away in terms of pay, Manchester Community College, in New Hampshire, has an average salary for full professors of just over $58,000. And while Harvard pays a lot in part because it is a research university, there are also wide gaps within sector categories. Among research universities, the average salary at private institutions is nearly $40,000 greater than that of a comparable public institution.
The report also notes several related trends of concern to the AAUP, including a rising gap between salary levels at public and private institutions (favoring the privates), and increased reliance on faculty members off the tenure track. Further, the AAUP notes concern over the continued growth in salary compression (in which senior faculty earn only modestly more than recent hires) and in the salary gaps by discipline.
While the AAUP study reports on overall institutional averages, the study includes some cross-institutional data on the latter trend. The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, which also conducts an annual faculty salary survey, highlights the issue of disciplinary shifts, and the data in that study  are consistent with the concern expressed by AAUP.
For a number of reasons, the report probably understates the economic hit being taken by those who teach at colleges and universities. First, the report studies only full-time faculty members, excluding the many adjuncts who are hired course-by-course (and have for years earned much less than their tenure-track counterparts). Many adjuncts have lost sections (and corresponding income) during the economic downturn.
Second, the report is based on salary, not actual pay received by faculty members. Furloughs, which have been widespread in higher education during the past few years and which have cut take-home pay by substantial sums at some institutions, do not (in a technical sense) affect one's salary, just one's paycheck (or lack thereof for days furloughed). As a result, many institutions that are reporting modest increases in average salaries probably have paid out less to faculty members.
"Even though we are showing the last two years as already being historically low" in salary gains, "they are probably an overestimate of what the salaries are," said John Curtis, AAUP's director of research and public policy. He said that there are no available data on the national impact on salaries of furloughs, but that some states (California) have been particularly hard-hit, and that the use of furloughs has been greater in public than in private higher education.
Asked if there are any silver linings or optimistic points in this year's salary report, he said, "I don't really see it."
The report notes with alarm changes in the faculty make-up and pay levels of public and private colleges and universities. In terms of salaries, the average increase across ranks and institution types was 0.9 percent at public institutions, 1.8 percent at religious colleges, and 2.1 percent at private, non-religiously affiliated colleges.
But in terms of who is getting hired, the report notes other significant shifts. For instance, the AAUP examined the type of faculty hiring going on between 2007-8 and 2010-11. Gaps were particularly notable at the doctoral level.
Change in Full-Time Faculty Positions at Doctoral Universities, 2007-8 to 2010-11
The reason AAUP's annual report is awaited every year, however, is salaries. Here are details on the salary averages by sector and rank -- showing that increase growth for private as opposed to public salaries will further accentuate gaps.
Average Salaries for Full-Time Faculty, by Category, Affiliation, and Academic Rank, 2010–11
|Category||Public||Private, Independent||Private, Religious|
This year's data do not show major changes in the colleges and universities that pay the most in salaries. While academics like to compare the relative rankings of institutions in faculty pay (and such comparisons are frequently cited to push for increases), experts warn about the imprecision in such figures. The AAUP data do not break out disciplinary averages, for example, so an institution with a relatively large share of its faculty teaching highly compensated subjects may have a higher average than another institution, although they pay their engineering professors the same, and their English professors the same (likely much less than the engineering professors).
Further, the data do not reflect regional variations in cost of living -- so it is quite possible that some professors who live in rural college towns may have considerably more purchasing power than some at institutions that are higher on these lists, and are located in expensive urban areas.
Further, average salary shifts this year and last may be influenced less by raises (which were generally small and in many cases didn't exist) than by who retired. At institutions that offered incentives to retire, whether those who accepted such offers
were the most highly compensated or less so can have a significant impact on average salary.
With those caveats, here are the salary rankings.
Among private research universities, the top five, led by Harvard, are unchanged. There is some movement in the next five slots, and Yeshiva University no longer makes the top 10, while Northwestern University does.
Top Private Universities in Faculty Salaries for Full Professors, 2010-11
|1. Harvard University||$193,800|
|2. Columbia University||$191,400|
|3. University of Chicago||$190,400|
|4. Stanford University||$188,400|
|5. Princeton University||$186,000|
|6. Yale University||$177,100|
|7. New York University||$175,900|
|8. University of Pennsylvania||$175,100|
|9. California Institute of Technology||$171,500|
|10. Northwestern University||$169,500|
The top public university in terms of salaries for full-time faculty members (New Jersey Institute of Technology) is more than $10,000 shy in its average to make the top 10 list for all universities (which is exclusively private). The top four institutions in the public category are unchanged from last year. Among other shifts, the State University of New York Brooklyn Health Science Center made the list, while Rutgers University at Camden fell off.
Top Public Universities in Pay for Full Professors, 2010-11
|1. New Jersey Institute of Technology||$158,700|
|2. University of California at Los Angeles||$153,700|
|3. University of California at Berkeley||$149,100|
|4. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor||$146,900|
|5. University of Maryland at Baltimore||$144,800|
|6. Rutgers University at Newark||$144,700|
|7. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||$143,300|
|8. Rutgers University at New Brunswick||$142,700|
|9. SUNY Brooklyn Health Sciences Center||$142,100|
|10. Georgia Institute of Technology||$140,400|
In the liberal arts college category, Wellesley College is in the top spot for the third year in a row. There is some movement within the top 10 by a few spots in either direction. The new institution on the list is Colgate University, bumping out Bowdoin College for the 10th spot.
Top 10 Liberal Arts Colleges in Salaries for Full Professors
|1. Wellesley College||$146,100|
|2. Claremont McKenna College||$145,200|
|3. Barnard College||$140,200|
|4. Amherst College||$137,200|
|5. Pomona College||$135,100|
|6. Harvey Mudd College||$132,100|
|7. Williams College||$132,000|
|8. Wesleyan University||$130,200|
|9. Smith College||$130,000|
|10. Colgate University||$129,000|
While salaries at community colleges lag those of four-year institutions, in recent years a group of two-year institutions -- primarily those of the City University of New York -- have reported average salaries for full professors in excess of $100,000. Of the seven community colleges in this category, all are from New York State and only the first one (Westchester Community College) isn't part of CUNY. A key caution: AAUP has much stronger participation rates for four-year institutions in the survey than for community colleges, so it is quite likely that there are other institutions that could be on this list if they participated in the study.
Community Colleges Where the Average Salary for Full Professors Is Over $100,000
|1. Westchester Community College||$118,400|
|2. Queensborough Community College||$108,700|
|3. Hostos Community College||$108,500|
|4. LaGuardia Community College||$106,300|
|5. Kingsborough Community College||$105,000|
|6. Borough of Manhattan Community College||$104,300|
|7. Bronx Community College||$101,300|
Also in recent years, some institutions -- generally private research universities -- have started paying salaries that average in the (low) six figures for assistant professors.
Institutions With 6-Figure Average Salaries for Full-Time Assistant Professors
|1. California Institute of Technology||$108,100|
|2. University of Pennsylvania||$106,800|
|3. Harvard University||$104,000|
|4. Stanford University||$103,400|
|5. University of Chicago||$100,500|
|6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology||$100,000|
At the other end of the pay spectrum, there are 13 colleges where the average salary for assistant professors is below $40,000. Many of them are small, religious institutions.
Colleges With Lowest Average Salaries for Full-Time Assistant Professors
|1. Lackawanna College||$29,300|
|2. University of the Southwest||$32,100|
|3. Bethany College||$34,700|
|4. Tabor College||$34,800|
|5. (tie) Villa Maria College of Buffalo||$36,300|
|5. (tie) Ohio Valley University||$36,300|
|7. Kentucky Christian University||$36,400|
|8. Lees-McRae College||$36,800|
|9. Goshen College||$36,900|
|10. Trocaire College||$38,200|
|11. Union College (Kentucky)||$39,000|
|12. Kentucky Wesleyan University||$39,800|
|13. Iowa Lakes Community College||$39,900|