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AAUP Report Identifies Key Factors to Watch following COVID-19 Pandemic

With the COVID-19 pandemic currently raging through the country, higher education has entered grim and uncertain times. This year’s Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession recaps the key findings from the AAUP’s 2019–20 Faculty Compensation Survey, initially released in April, presenting salary data for full-time faculty members as well as information on gender inequities, retirement and medical benefits, part-time faculty pay and benefits, and administrator salaries. The report also highlights key data points related to the economy, institutional finances, enrollment, and the makeup of the academic workforce. The findings provide a snapshot of faculty compensation for the 2019–20 academic year, as the country was on the brink of what may be the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

On average, salaries for full-time faculty members at US colleges and universities are 2.8 percent higher in 2019–20 than they were in the preceding academic year. With consumer prices growing by 2.3 percent during the year, the increase in real terms was 0.5 percent.

The 2019–20 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession discusses key data points relevant to monitoring the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education. Some areas of concern discussed in the report include the following:

  • Full-time faculty salary growth has been flat for several years. Following the Great Recession of the late 2000s, nominal salary growth remained below consumer price growth until 2015–16, and real salary growth has remained flat ever since.
  • Salary growth has varied by institution type. Average real salaries for full-time faculty members at doctoral institutions remained below prerecession levels until 2015–16 and have remained flat ever since. For master’s, baccalaureate, and associate’s institutions, average real salaries have yet to return to prerecession levels and have, in fact, declined over the last three years.
  • Almost all full-time faculty members receive retirement benefits. Almost 97 percent of full-time faculty members earn additional compensation in the form of contributions by the institution or state or local government toward retirement plans, with an average expenditure of 10.7 percent of the average salary of faculty members who are covered.
  • Most part-time faculty members do not receive benefits. Overall, 35 percent of reporting institutions contribute toward retirement plans for some or all part-time faculty members, and 33 percent contribute to premiums for medical insurance plans.
  • Enrollment has steadily declined in recent years. After rising unemployment rates drove up enrollment in the wake of the Great Recession—particularly in community colleges—enrollment peaked at 13 million full-time-equivalent students (FTES) in 2010–11 but has since declined sharply to the prerecession level of about 11 million FTES.
  • Funding for public institutions never recovered after the Great Recession. Appropriations for public institutions have declined 12 percent, after adjusting for inflation, from $8,100 per FTES in 2007–08 to $7,100 per FTES in 2017–18, and growth has been flat for several years. In addition, there is huge variation between states.
  • Over two-thirds of faculty members are on contingent appointments. Over 50 percent of faculty members are employed part time overall. From 2009 to 2019, the proportion of tenured or tenure-track faculty members in doctoral institutions decreased from 51 to 45 percent, and now more than half of faculty members in doctoral institutions are serving in either full-time (20.5 percent) or part-time (34.5 percent) contingent positions.

In addition, the report describes improvements that were made to the AAUP Faculty Compensation Survey this year, including full-time faculty benefits data collection and the inclusion of regional price parities to account for cost-of-living differences between states and metro areas.

The US economy is facing a crisis that is unprecedented in recent memory, with an estimated unemployment rate higher than at any time since the Great Depression. The findings presented in the 2019–20 Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession provide a snapshot of faculty compensation for the 2019–20 academic year. In the coming months and years of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the AAUP Research Office will study key data points related to the economy, institutional finances, enrollment, the academic workforce, and salaries.

Click here to read the full report

Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 28, 2020