Faculty-Pay Survey Records the Largest One-Year Drop Ever

Average full-time faculty salaries decreased by 5 percent in the 2021-22 academic year when adjusted for inflation, the largest single-year drop in the 50 years that the American Association of University Professors has tracked academic wages.

The AAUP’s latest faculty-compensation survey, which was released on Wednesday as part of its annual report on the state of the profession, says that full-time faculty salaries in 2021-22 were 2 percent higher — essentially flat — than in 2020-21. But that actually was a big pay cut in real terms. Adjusted for inflation, faculty salaries fell at 95 percent of institutions that were surveyed in both 2020-21 and 2021-22.

Faculty-pay levels and other trends “paint a bleak economic picture of the profession,” the report says. The report’s release comes amid the continuing pandemic, a historic increase in interest rates in an effort to combat rising inflation, and the economic impact of both Covid-19 and the Ukraine war.

Last year’s AAUP report marked the first time that real wages for full-time professors had decreased since the Great Recession, in 2007-8.

For college presidents, meanwhile, salaries increased by 7 percent in 2021-22, keeping pace with the rate of inflation.

Adjunct faculty members, the group that the AAUP says was hardest hit by pandemic-related institutional turmoil, were paid an average of $3,843 per three-credit course section in 2021-22 — ranging from $2,979 at public two-year colleges to $5,557 at public doctoral universities.

The report calls those wages “appalling” but cautions that the data set for part-time faculty members isn’t as robust because not all colleges provided that information in the survey.

The AAUP’s survey includes 900 colleges, 370,000 full-time faculty members, and 90,000 part-time faculty members, as well as administrator pay at 522 institutions. The report also includes analyses of federal data on tenure and other areas.

While some institutions reported that their share of tenured professors increased or that average salaries increased, the report states that the uptick could be misleading. That’s because the change could have been the result of laying off many adjunct faculty members, who tend to earn lower salaries, among other things.

“Faculty members (and administrators) at a particular institution may have been on reduced pay last year; thus, it may appear that an institution gave substantial pay raises this year when pay levels were only returning to pre-pandemic levels,” the report states.

That also could help explain the proportion of full-time professors who were eligible for retirement plans, which increased by 2.8 percent during 2021-22, according to the report.

“After last year’s 2.4-point decrease from 2019-20, when 96.8 percent received this benefit, 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 report states.

The AAUP’s report also says that faculty salaries for women during the 2021-22 year were 81.9 percent of those for men, mirroring the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found that women make 83.1 percent of the median for men in all sectors. According to the report, the pay gap has remained largely the same in recent years, which some in higher ed have attributed to the overrepresentation of women in lower-paying disciplines.

“But 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,” the report states.

The consequences of the wage gap often “follow women into retirement” since they will receive less in Social Security benefits and pensions in line with their salaries, and since women remain overrepresented in lower faculty ranks and underrepresented at doctoral institutions with higher salaries, according to the report.

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