AAUP Report Highlights Need for Action on Crisis Exacerbated by Pandemic

The AAUP released today the Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2020–21, which outlines how years of unstable funding, combined with the impacts of the COVID‑19 pandemic, have created an existential threat to shared governance and academic freedom in higher education that severely weakens our nation’s ability to effectively educate our communities. 

The long-standing economic crises described in the report—declining fiscal support, over-reliance on contingent faculty, growth of administrations, and spiraling institutional debt—highlight the need for a New Deal for Higher Education, as called for by the AAUP, the American Federation of Teachers, and other allies. “Decades of divestment and chronic underfunding at the state and federal level have brought higher education to a precarious tipping point,” said AAUP president Irene Mulvey. The report concludes with an urgent call for governing boards, legislators, and other policy makers to provide funds for a substantial readjustment of academic salary levels to avoid irreparable harm to the US higher education system.

The report presents findings from three related studies conducted by the AAUP Research Department: the AAUP’s annual Faculty Compensation Survey, a follow-up COVID-19 survey, and secondary data analyses of faculty and staff employment and institutional finance data.

Key Findings from the 2020–21 Faculty Compensation Survey

  • Real wages for full-time faculty decreased at 67.9 percent of institutions, after adjusting for inflation.
  • Real wages for full-time faculty decreased (−0.4 percent) for the first time since the Great Recession.
  • The number of full-time faculty employed decreased at 61.5 percent of institutions.

Key Findings from the 2020–21 Follow-Up COVID‑19 Survey

  • 55 percent of institutions implemented salary freezes or reductions.
  • 28 percent of institutions eliminated or reduced some form of fringe benefits.
  • Almost 5 percent of institutions terminated the appointments of at least some full-time tenure-line faculty members.
  • Almost 20 percent terminated the appointments of or denied contract renewal to at least some full-time non-tenure-track faculty members.

Additional Key Findings

  • In fall 2019, 63.0 percent of faculty members were on contingent appointments; 20.0 percent were employed full time and 42.9 percent were employed part time. Only 26.5 percent of faculty members were tenured and 10.5 percent were on tenure track.
  • From fiscal year 2011–12 to fiscal year 2018–19, the numbers of staff classified as “management” increased 12 percent per FTE student, real average salaries increased 7 percent, and salary outlays per FTE student increased 19 percent, including an extraordinary 24 percent increase in real salary expenditures per FTE student in public colleges and universities.
  • US colleges and universities reported a total of over $336 billion in long-term debt in fiscal year 2018–19, a growth of 71.1 percent since fiscal year 2008–09. Long-term debt at public institutions grew just over 50 percent, while long-term debt among private institutions grew about 116 percent.
Publication Date: 
Friday, July 16, 2021