Full-time faculty wages fell 5% after inflation, AAUP says

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Dive Brief:

  • Full-time faculty members’ wages decreased by 5% in 2021-22 after adjusting for inflation, according to the American Association of University Professors, which Wednesday released an annual report on the economic state of the profession.
  • The drop represents one of the largest one-year decreases in real wages since 1972 when AAUP began tracking the measure. 
  • After adjusting for inflation, the average salary for full-time faculty fell 2.3% below the average in 2008, the height of the Great Recession.

Dive Insight:

From 2020-21 to 2021-22, the average nominal salary for full-time faculty members actually rose 2% to $103,803, according to the report. But skyrocketing inflation dramatically outpaced the raise.

The AAUP report compares Consumer Price Index changes from December to December to measure inflation. But costs have continued to spike. The month of May saw the fastest annual inflation increase in over four decades, with an overall year-over-year inflation rate of 8.6%. 

For faculty who received a small pay increase or saw their wages stagnate, this means salaries translate into less spending power than they did the previous year.

A growing number of faculty members are seeking out data to help them advocate for a pay raise, according to Glenn Colby, senior research officer at AAUP.

“This year, my office has been receiving tons of faculty inquiries about their institutional salary data and finances,” he said. “They’re trying to put together a case that their institutions need to adjust wages. Not just to account for the high levels of inflation, but because wages have been stagnant for a long time.”

Colby’s office may get a few dozen requests of this kind in a normal year, he said. Halfway through 2022, it’s already received 50 to 60 calls for information. 

The average salary for a full-time faculty member in 2021-22 ranged widely depending on the type of college where they taught. A lecturer at a religiously affiliated baccalaureate college made $52,411 on average, while a full professor at a private doctoral university earned $210,260.

But not all faculty are full time. For this report, researchers surveyed over 900 colleges with more than 370,000 full-time and 90,000 part-time faculty members, also known as adjunct faculty.

“Most of our work tends to focus on full-time faculty because that’s who institutions keep good stats on,” Colby said. “We’re trying to draw attention to the part-time people, but there’s such little data about them.”

Community colleges without faculty ranks offered adjuncts an average pay of $2,979 to teach a course section in 2020–21. At public doctoral institutions, that average was $5,557.

“You might have people teaching four or five sections, but they’re still classified as part-time because no full-time position has been created,” said Colby. 

Some 61.5% of both full- and part-time faculty are contingent hires, meaning they are ineligible for tenure.

“A lot of contingent faculty lost their jobs during the pandemic, especially part-time contingent,” Colby said.

In the face of real wages decreasing and job insecurity, colleges risk losing faculty, Colby said. They could lose faculty not just to better paying institutions, but to different industries.

“We do this work to make compensation transparent so that people can make appropriate adjustments,” he said. “It’s probably time to make an adjustment in higher education, or else we’re gonna lose talented people to other careers and other sectors.”

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