Despite average salaries for full-time faculty members from fall 2021 to fall 2022 increasing to heights not seen in 30 years, historic increases in inflation have butchered those gains—and a slew of others.
Salary, along with contributions to retirement and medical benefits, has sharply declined for full-time faculty across higher ed since the fall of 2019 thanks to another massive increase in the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers (CPI-U), according to an annual report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
“The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession,” conducted for the past 50 years, found that nominal average salaries for full-time faculty increased by 4.1% from fall 2021 to fall 2022, the best one-year increase since 1990-91. However, once adjusted for inflation, full-time faculty salary decreased by 2.4%. Nearly 90% of all institutions experienced an inflation-adjusted decrease in faculty salary.
Nearly 900 U.S. colleges and universities participated in this report, utilizing employment data from around 370,000 full-time faculty.
Inflation has steadily outpaced salary growth for the past three years. Consequently, real average salaries have decreased from fall 2019 to fall 2022 by a cumulative 7.5%. In the same period, CPI-U has increased by nearly 16%. This three-year bruising is driven by a historic inflation hike from December 2021-22 not seen since 1981. For more perspective, average real salaries were 4.2% less in fall 2022 than in fall 2008, the middle of the Great Recession.
This three-year salary decline follows seven years of growth, from fall 2012 to fall 2019.
Senior administrators’ salaries have not been able to outpace inflation either. Presidents, chief academic officers and chief financial officers have also seen their median yearly earnings decrease. Chief academic officers had it the worst, experiencing a 9.2% decrease in median earnings since the fall of 2019. Presidents were second, with a 5.4% decrease.
Similarly to recent salary declines, median contributions to full-time faculty’s fringe benefits have also taken a hit within the same period. Specifically, median contributions to faculty retirement plans decreased by 6.2% from fall 2019 to fall 2022 once adjusted for inflation. Even worse, faculty of private independent institutions experienced a whopping 15% decline in retirement plan benefits. Additionally, medical contributions decreased by 7.5% across the board.
AAUP attributes faculties’ and senior administrators’ sharp decline in financial benefits to the pandemic-related ramifications. However, it also noted several other trends that have since developed that are deteriorating higher education’s quality, such as campus ideological divides, “political and corporate intrusions,” and attacks on knowledge and expertise.
However, AAUP believes the fabric of higher education cannot endure without proper wages.
“These events are shaping collective consciousness in U.S. academe, as evidenced by 15 academic worker strikes in the U.S. in 2022—the greatest number in at least 20 years, according to The Guardian,” the report’s authors wrote. “Such upheavals—along with the continued declines in real wages of faculty members, growth in reliance on faculty members on contingent appointments, gender pay inequality, and appallingly low pay for adjunct faculty members—diminish the ability of colleges and universities to attract and retain talented faculty members, threatening the standards of the profession and the success of institutions in fulfilling their obligations to students and to society.”