Home / General / Faculty salaries in American higher ed have declined drastically since 1970

Faculty salaries in American higher ed have declined drastically since 1970

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The facts behind the headline of this post are disguised by a couple of factors:

(1) People, even highly educated people, tend to have a lot of trouble adjusting to the real effects of long term inflation. So for example, nominal average salaries for all full-time faculty at American colleges and universities were more than seven times higher in 2021-22 than they were in 1970-71. But if we adjust these numbers for changes in the Consumer Price Index, full-time faculty salaries in 2021-22 were just 4% higher than they were in 1970-71.

(2) Another huge and mostly invisible factor here is adjuctification. In 1970-71, 78% of faculty were full-time. In 2021-22, that figure was 56%. Because part-time faculty salaries are a tiny fraction of full-time salaries, this of course means that the average salary of all faculty is vastly lower today than it was in 1970. Side note: When I’ve posted about these trends before, there’s a truly startling tendency among some commentators to resist the overall conclusion, by insisting that faculty salaries have dropped only if we take into account part-time faculty, as if the latter category doesn’t include “real” faculty, even though part-time faculty teach the large majority of actual student hours in American higher ed today (The 44% of faculty that are part-time have on average higher teaching loads and larger classes than the 56% of faculty who are full time).

(3) The average wages of American workers as a whole went up by 35% between 1970 and 2022, which is a very small increase relative to the growth of the economy as a whole. Real per capita GDP grew from $25,922 in 1970 to $65,415 in 2022, a 152% increase. But it’s a massive increase relative to the changes in full-time faculty salaries, let alone all faculty salaries.

(4) A particularly tragic side note here is that over the last decade law professor salaries fell by 17% in CPI terms, 24% relative to the National Average Wage Index, and 40% relative to the Case Shiller National Housing Price Index, which almost certainly means that a lot of law professors will soon leave academia for vastly higher paying jobs as equity partners in national law firms, or at least that’s what I learned in Econ 101 (Looked at the pictures then I turned the pages).

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