Busting the Myths: Faculty Aren’t the Problem; They Are Part of the Solution

April 13, 2015
Contacts: Robin Burns, Media Relations, or John Barnshaw, Senior Higher Education Researcher

AAUP Releases Faculty Compensation Report

Washington, DC—Colleges and universities are facing unprecedented challenges. State appropriations for higher education are declining dramatically. Private endowments have eroded. Tuition is rising and student access to quality higher education is threatened. Traditional institutions fear they will be overtaken by online and for-profit education providers.

In Busting the Myths: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2014–15, released today, the American Association of University Professors debunks some myths about the challenges facing higher education and highlights how faculty are a key part of the solution.

For decades, the AAUP’s faculty salary surveys and compensation reports have been authoritative sources of information about the economic status of the profession. This year marks the first consequential improvement (1.4 percent) in inflation-adjusted year-over-year salary for full-time faculty since the Great Recession. 

This year’s report also explores four common myths about higher education:

  • Myth: Faculty are to blame for rising tuition.
    Reality: The decline of state appropriations and the erosion of endowments have caused tuition to rise—not faculty salaries. Over the past five years, average net price tuition has risen by about 6.5 percent while total state appropriations have declined by 16 percent. Including this year’s data with the prior five years, we find that full-time faculty salaries have declined 0.12 percent, continuing the long trend of salary stagnation.
  • Myth: Faculty are “ridiculously overpaid” compared to professionals working in “the real world.” 
    Reality: Even for the highest-ranking professors, salaries have failed to keep up with those of similar professions outside of academia. In many fields, even the highest-ranking tenured professors earn less than peers in comparable professions. And the vast majority of faculty earn far less. Approximately half of all US faculty are hired on a per-course basis with very low pay and few benefits.
  • Myth: Responding to “disruptive innovations” such as online and for-profit education requires replacing tenure-track faculty with part-time adjuncts.
    Reality: Strategic hiring and support for full-time faculty can improve quality and enhance an institution’s distinctiveness and competitiveness. Whether one views education as a public good or as a commodity, data clearly indicate that reducing the number of full-time faculty is more likely to hasten a traditional institution’s demise than to provide a sustainable model for the future.
  • Myth: Faculty benefit costs are out of control.
    Reality: Costs for faculty benefits are not significantly increasing. Less than 31 percent of the average two- and four-year public institution budget goes to faculty salaries. And the cost of benefits as a percentage of compensation has increased by just over 1 percent a year for the past five years.

The report is available to the public on the AAUP’s website at http://www.aaup.org/reports-publications/2014-15salarysurvey.

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities. The AAUP is a nonprofit professional association headquartered in Washington, DC.

Media Contact: 
Robin Burns, Media Relations, or John Barnshaw, Senior Higher Education Researcher
Publication Date: 
Monday, April 13, 2015