Faculty Salaries Barely Keep Pace With Inflation

April 11, 2017

Most full-time college faculty members received substantial salary increases this year, but they lost much of the added spending power they had gained to an uptick in the cost of living, according to new survey data published by the American Association of University Professors.

As a whole, full-time college instructors earned an average of 2.6 percent more in the 2016-17 academic year than they had in 2015-16. In real terms, however, their pay increases exceeded growth of the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, by just one half of one percent, the AAUP’s analysis of its data concludes.

The AAUP had delivered faculty members much better news in its reports on the last two academic years, in which faculty salaries annually rose about 3 percent faster than inflation, bringing full-time instructors’ real earnings back to where they had been just before the Great Recession hit. The AAUP’s latest report warns faculty members to expect more bleak news down the road, and blames its pessimistic outlook on political forces rather than economic ones.

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The updated data.chronicle.com features figures about full-time faculty pay over the past decade, including the latest numbers from the Department of Education on nearly 4,500 colleges. The updated site also incorporates pay data for adjunct faculty members, as well as staff salaries, and makes it easy to compare salaries by state or type of institution.

And, as we’ve done with adjunct salaries, we’re gathering additional salary data from full-time faculty members to see how pay differs across departments.

Visit data.chronicle.com to add your data and explore the latest figures.

The new report predicts that the election of President Trump, along with continued Republican control of Congress and the expansion of Republican control of state capitals, "will have dramatic effects on faculty compensation for years to come." It says, "With appropriations for higher education still lagging behind prerecession levels, faculty should expect a prolonged period of little growth in salaries."

To support such assertions, the report cites two separate analyses. One, an examination of state budgets adopted since 2014 in the context of partisan control of state legislatures and governorships, concludes that Republican-leaning statehouses have been disproportionately likely to be stingy and unlikely to be generous in terms of appropriations for public higher education.

The other analysis, examining public colleges’ revenue sources, concludes that such institutions have been offsetting lost state tax-dollar support by increasing their out-of-state enrollments and how much they charge out-of-state students. It cautions that enrollments of international students, a substantial segment of the out-of-state population, could decline as a result of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Blind Spots

In breaking down its survey’s results by faculty rank, the AAUP concludes that some categories of faculty members kept ahead of inflation better than others. Assistant professors received the largest pay bumps — 1.8 percent after accounting for inflation. The smallest after inflation, four-tenths of one percent, went to full professors.

Despite the better fortunes of those at the bottom of the ladder, the AAUP’s report says it found no evidence of widespread salary inversion, in which junior faculty make more than their senior colleagues, or salary conversion, a closing of the pay gaps between junior and senior faculty.

Samuel J. Dunietz, a research and policy analyst at the AAUP, says its analysis based that finding on institutional and aggregate data, and therefore could have glossed over the presence of salary inversion or conversion within specific academic disciplines or departments. "Obviously it depends on each faculty members’ particular situation," he says.

The AAUP’s report cautions that its overall numbers could have been skewed by big salary increases at a few institutions or by changes in the composition of the academic work force, which increasingly consists of instructors who work part-time or otherwise are off the tenure track.

The AAUP’s new analysis expanded on its efforts in recent years to examine the pay of part-time instructors. It sought to eliminate confusion stemming from that population’s inclusion of three distinct groups: adjunct instructors, professors on phased retirement, and assistant professors who are teaching part-time as they complete a dissertation. To shed more light on the conditions of that first group, it gathered, for the first time, data on the earnings of part-timers who are paid by course section, and found that they on average earned a total of just under $7,100 from any single college where they worked.

Among other findings, the AAUP’s report says gender-based pay disparities remain evident at all faculty ranks, although some of the gaps may be attributable to men’s disproportionate representation in some of the better-paying disciplines and women’s disproportionate representation in some disciplines that pay relatively poorly.

The AAUP bases its annual compensation report on data collected from more than 1,000 colleges around the nation.

The Chronicle maintains a separate searchable database on faculty pay at about 4,500 colleges, based on information collected by the U.S. Education Department.

Peter Schmidt writes about affirmative action, academic labor, and issues related to academic freedom. Contact him at peter.schmidt@chronicle.com.