AAUP Faculty Salary Report Highlights Contingent Faculty, State Funding Concerns

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by Ronald Roach

In its annual study of college and university professor salaries, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports that average salaries are showing recovery, following three years of recession during which salary hikes for full-time faculty members fell below the inflation rate. Overall, college and university professors saw an average increase of 1.7 percent this academic year, which “is just barely on par with the increase” in consumer prices, AAUP officials say.

“The data at our disposal show some signs of very slow recovery in full-time faculty salaries. But state-level indicators … do not give cause for great hope that more rapid improvement is close at hand,” according to the 2012-13 AAUP Annual Report on Economic Status of the Profession.

The AAUP report documents the overall employment trends using data collected on full-time faculty members at more than 1,100 colleges and universities. In addition to current salary data, the report features analyses of three trends, which report authors warned could prove detrimental to the long-term health of U.S. higher education. The report identifies the “continuing rise of contingent (non-tenure-track) employment for faculty members, the sharp decline in state appropriations for higher education even after the end of the Great Recession in the broader economy, and the growing salary disadvantage for faculty members teaching in the public sector” as troubling trends.

Dr. John W. Curtis, the AAUP research and public policy director, considers the growing use of contingent faculty in American higher education the “biggest issue in higher education … right now in terms of the faculty and the people who are involved in higher education and the education quality that we deliver to students.”

Some 76 percent of college and university instructors in the U.S. fall into a contingent faculty category. The categories are full-time non-tenure-track faculty members off the tenure track, part-time (or adjunct) faculty members, and graduate student employees. The most critical “issues that we deal with are not restricted to the salary survey that we conduct but really has to do with the growing use of contingent faculty appointments, or non-tenure-track appointments, and we have a couple of sections in the report that are focused on that situation,” says Curtis, the report’s lead author.

Using data collected by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW), of which the AAUP is a founding member, the report includes a new analysis of pay and working conditions for full-time non-tenure-track faculty members. The analysis reveals that full-time non-tenure-track faculty members earned a median academic year salary of $47,500 in fall 2010, which is roughly equal to the salary of entry-level faculty members found in the AAUP data for that year.

“We especially wanted to include (contingent faculty data) this year because it’s been a segment of the higher education workforce for which we’ve had very little data. Full-time non-tenure track are included in the salary data that AAUP collects and reports on each year, but we (haven’t had) a way to separate them out and provide some analysis specifically for that category of faculty members,” Curtis says.

In its focus on declining state higher education funding, the report provides a state-by-state analysis of higher education spending during the recent recession. The totals across all 50 states reveal an 18 percent decline in higher education appropriations between 2008 and 2013. In a section comparing public and private institution faculty salaries, the AAUP data for 2012-13 show that full-time faculty members teaching at public colleges and universities make 7 to 35 percent less than their colleagues in similar positions at private institutions.

Dr. Saranna Thornton, professor of business and economics at Hampden-Sydney College and co-author of the report, says that, with declining appropriations, states have essentially abandoned their responsibility for ensuring access to postsecondary education, leaving students and their families to shoulder more of the costs with higher tuition prices. Thornton hopes the report will bring new attention to “how states, despite the fact that the economy has been recovering, are just continuing to reduce funding for higher education.”

“With the state reductions, it’s going to affect the quality of education that people receive as well as the people who can actually receive it,” she says.

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