Insider Higher Ed
April 4, 2016
By Colleen Flaherty
Professors A, B and C are old colleagues who work at three different regional public universities: one with 5,500 students in the rural South, one with 6,000 students in the Midwest and one large suburban university in California. They’re concerned about the future of faculty compensation, and they begin to compare notes about what each is earning in pay and benefits. It turns out the range is big -- really big -- from about $79,500 to $119,515 annually.
It’s probably unsurprising that the professor working in suburban California, with its high cost of living, makes the most. But beyond that, what exactly accounts for the pay gap? That’s the question behind a new paper offering another angle on faculty salary surveys, which are used by human resources personnel and faculty members alike to make informed decisions about how much professors should be paid in salary and benefits.
“This fictitious example describes a very real problem: trying to ascertain with precision salary and fringe benefits data for our nation’s public regional universities,” the paper reads. “In the age of the Internet, even well-informed business officers, human resource officers and faculty do not know how differences embedded in how institutions are grouped within the Carnegie Basic Classification obfuscate what we know -- and should know -- about key differences in institutional types across the American higher education landscape.”
In the end, full-time faculty members at large urban institutions made the most in monetary compensation, at $104,624, and those at rural, medium-size institutions made the least, at $84,720. Faculty members, regardless of location, also benefited from collective bargaining, to the tune of $21,010 in one year, on average.
The paper argues two things: that leaving fringe benefits out of salary surveys paints an incomplete picture of faculty compensation and that “the entire universe of public regional universities deserves analysis as a distinct sector of the American higher education landscape.” Lumping regional, access-oriented institutions with flagships for compensation comparisons just won’t do, the study says, and collective bargaining’s impact on compensation (or lack thereof) also demands attention.
“Monetary Compensation of Full-Time Faculty at American Public Regional Universities: The Impact of Geography and the Existence of Collective Bargaining” was released ahead of this week’s annual meeting of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions in New York. It was written by Stephen Katsinas, professor of higher education administration and director of the Education Policy Center at the University of Alabama, and two colleagues, Johnson Ogun, director of culinary arts at the University of North Alabama, and Nathaniel J. Bray, assistant professor of educational leadership, policy and technology at Alabama.
The paper examines monetary compensation of 127,222 full-time faculty employed by 390 regional members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, asserting that compensation data published by the Education Department and other organizations typically group all four-year public university faculty members together, regardless of workload (think two classes per semester versus four). Such data also neglect the impact of geography on compensation and inclusion of fringe benefits, which can make up 30 percent of what universities spend per professor, the paper argues.
Regional universities serve nearly four million students, according to the study, and accurate, nuanced data about how much their professors are paid is needed as a generation of baby boomers approaches retirement.
The authors took their data from the 2011 National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the most recent year for which data on both salary and fringe benefits were collected. They divided their 390 regional universities under study into seven categories, based on size and location, from rural and small to urban and larger. That’s more telling than Carnegie classifications, which typically go by highest degree awarded, according to the paper.
Over all, average total monetary compensation for the 127,222 full-time faculty employed by the 390 regional universities was $97,174, some $71,000 of which was salary, with about $26,000 in fringe benefits. Among the 15,872 full-time faculty employed by the 90 rural-medium regional universities, average compensation was $84,720. The 18,884 faculty employed by the 42 suburban-larger regional universities received $101,366.