Inflation underlines years of stagnant faculty pays

Average salaries for full-time faculty members increased 2 percent from 2020–21 to 2021–22, according to an analysis out today from the American Association of University Professors.

This is consistent with the flat wage growth seen since the Great Recession. But 2021–22 wasn’t just another year: taking 40-year-high inflation into account, real wages for full-time faculty members fell 5 percent. This is the largest one-year decrease on record since the AAUP began tracking this measure in 1972.

Average salaries for full-timers also fell below Great Recession levels in 2021, with the average salary falling to 2.3 percent below the 2008 average, after adjusting for inflation.

This real wage cut was relatively consistent across institution types and faculty ranks.

The AAUP released a preliminary version of this analysis and other faculty salary data earlier this spring.

Glenn Colby, senior researcher for the AAUP and author of both reports, said Tuesday that he’s fielded an unusual number of inquiries this year from AAUP chapters and other faculty groups seeking salary data and advice. They all want help making the case that their institutions must meaningfully respond to inflation.

“I would just encourage institutions to make adjustments that maintain the standard of living so they don’t lose talented people,” Colby said. “That’s the market comparison to make.”

Some colleges and universities have attempted to address inflation with short-term measures. Carnegie Mellon University said this month that it’s offering eligible employees a one-time $1,500 payment to help pay for gas, food and more, for instance. (It’s also adopting a merit increase program for fiscal year 2023.) But while such ideas are generally welcome, they’re insufficient to many professors who have faced any combination of frozen wages, actual or effective pay and benefits cuts and workload increases during the pandemic—all as endowments have grown on many wealthy campuses.

Jeffrey Williams, professor of English and of literary and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon, who is not affiliated with the new AAUP report, said Tuesday that instead of a $1,500 payment, “the more progressive thing to do would be retroactive raises.” Without that, he said, pay freezes and effective cuts accumulate over the course of one’s career.

Background

The AAUP’s new report is based primarily on the group’s annual Faculty Compensation Survey. Data collection for the survey ended in March, and preliminary results were released in April so that colleges and universities could use them as benchmarks in setting their own salary data for next academic year. The message here, Colby reiterated, is that as institutions think about their costs going into next year, they should think about “what it costs to keep faculty, as well. That means maintaining their standard of living, not just keeping the campus open. Because after a while, people start going into other careers.”

An April report from the College and University Professional Association–Human Resources also found that the “soaring inflation rate has far outpaced pay increases for the higher education workforce.” Based on CUPA-HR’s own annual workforce surveys for 2021–22, overall median salaries for administrators increased 3.4 percent year-over-year, while salaries for tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members increased 1.6 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively . That was compared to a 6.8 percent inflation rate that was still climbing. Inflation is now above 8 percent.

In one bit of good news for faculty members, 97.2 percent of full-time instructors were covered by retirement plans this past academic year, a 2.8-percentage-point increase from a year ago. According to the report, after last year’s 2.4-percentage-point decrease in coverage from 2019–20, “this year’s increase indicates that some institutions may have restored benefits that were eliminated or reduced in 2020–21 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic .” The average expenditure for faculty members who were covered was $11,835, equivalent to 11.3 percent of the average salary for all full-time faculty members. The average institutional expenditure toward retirement plans was $11,788 per full-time faculty member, including those not covered, equivalent to 11 percent of the average salary of $104,092 for the 850 institutions reporting benefits data.

The share of full-time faculty members eligible to participate in medical insurance plans was steady year over year, at 94.5 percent of full-time faculty members, with an average expenditure of $12,461 for faculty members who were covered (or 11.9 percent of the average salary).

The AAUP’s new analysis, formally called the “Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2021–22,” includes additional findings on gender and faculty rank and more.

Gender Matters

Continuing a long-term gap in pay between men and women, institutions reported full-time faculty salaries for women that are 81.9 percent of those for men in 2021–22, on average. The gender pay gap is greatest at the full professor rank.

While some attribute this gap to “market factors” and the overrepresentation of women in lower-paying disciplines, the report says, “little is known about how such market factors operate, and there are many other factors contributing to gender-based pay disparities in academia, including biases in hiring and promotion practices, lack of institutional resources and support, and caregiving responsibilities. In any case, when gender pay gaps are identified, they must be corrected.”

The report includes an additional “Gender Equity” analysis, which notes that the number (not share) of full-time women faculty members increased 1.6 percent over the last two years, in contrast to a 2.5 percent decrease for men. This difference was greater at the full professor rank, where the number of full-time women professors increased 5.9 percent over two years, compared with a 1.9 percent decrease for men. The AAUP cautions that this statistic is drawn only from institutions that responded to its Faculty Compensation Survey in each of the past three years, and that men still greatly outnumber women at the full professor rank.

Still, the AAUP offers a hypothesis for the increase in the number of female full professors: because men are more likely to hold appointments at the full professor rank, “it is possible that COVID-19 risks, budget cuts and changing working conditions caused more of them to retire early.”

Part-Time Faculty

Some 907 institutions responded to the AAUP’s salary survey, but just 355 of them reported per-course salaries for part-time instructors (this is typical, as colleges and universities struggle to collect and share adjunct faculty data for a variety of reasons). The per-course salaries collected also lag a year, reflecting 2020–21 rates, to ensure a full year’s worth of data. All that said, the average per-course pay for a three-credit course last year was $3,843 per section, an 8.1 percent increase from 2019–20, when average pay was $3,556.

Average rates of pay varied widely among institutional types, ranging from $2,979 in public associate degree-granting institutions without faculty ranks to $5,557 in public doctoral institutions, the report says. It calls all these wages “appalling.”

Beyond pay, most adjuncts paid per course did not receive either retirement or medical benefits contributions in 2020-21. Some 34.7 percent of institutions reported contributing to retirement plans for some or all part-time faculty members, and 30.9 percent of institutions contributed to medical insurance premiums.

Adjuncts were actually more likely to receive benefits at associate institutions, with 53.5 percent of these colleges contributing to their retirement plans. Doctoral institutions were most likely to contribute to adjuncts’ medical insurance premiums, with 55 percent of them doing so.

Based on a supplementary AAUP analysis of the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the number of contingent faculty appointments decreased 6.9 percent from fall 2019 to fall 2020. This includes a 2.9 percent decrease in full-time non-tenure-track appointments and a “ staggering” 8.7 percent decrease in part-time appointments.

Regarding the ongoing pandemic, part-time faculty members appear to have experienced a “much larger adverse impact than full-time faculty members,” the report continues.

Based on the AAUP’s own data from 383 institutions that shared counts from both years, the number of part-time faculty members employed during the entire academic year decreased 10.6 percent from 2019–20 to 2020–21.

The number of full-time faculty members increased 1.9 percent among the 889 institutions that completed the survey for fall 2019 and fall 2020.

“It’s clear that contingent faculty were hammered” with personnel cuts during COVID-19, Colby said. Meanwhile, assistant professor numbers plummeted, likely due to hiring freezes, he added.

Seth Kahn, professor of English at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an advocate for non-tenure-track faculty rights, said it made sense to him that “contingent faculty have had it harder for lots of reasons. Enrollment fluctuations have made unstable workloads even more unstable.”

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