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Wednesday, April 24,2013

Major report shows salary trends in higher ed

By Alexander Card

A recent report by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) revealed salary information for higher-education institutions nationwide, allowing for insight into how Ohio University compares at both the national and state levels.

The release of the AAUP report coincides with the ongoing consideration of three resolutions by the OU Faculty Senate, all of which in some manner decry existing disparities between faculty and administrative salaries, and claim that statistical analyses of faculty salaries can misrepresent these disparities.

The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession is an in-depth analysis of various economic trends occurring among institutions of higher education, but focuses in particular on certain aspects of professors' employment rates and salaries. Weighing in at about 80 pages, the report is a behemoth, full of countless graphs and charts, as well as explanatory commentary by the AAUP. Read carefully, however, the daunting document weaves a cautionary tale about the direction of higher education and the challenges faced by public university faculty.

One obstacle facing Ohio's public universities is the reduction of financial appropriations from the state. From 2008 to 2013, Ohio cut its higher education funding by 18.4 percent. This has shifted much of the cost of higher education to students.

Ohio is not alone in making these cuts, though. "Most state budgets reveal a continued trend of... reductions in their annual appropriations for higher education," according to the report. Historically, state contributions have provided the "single largest revenue source for most public colleges and universities."

Higher education funding cuts might seem bad in Ohio, but in reality the Buckeye state sits among the middle tier of states making reductions. Neighboring Michigan cut its appropriations by 28.2 percent over the same period (2008-13), while public universities in Indiana only lost 6.7 percent of their funding. Nationally, Arizona made the largest cuts: a 42 percent reduction for higher education over the last five years.

A handful of states' higher education systems actually experienced a gain in state funding during this time period. Most notably Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming, who received an additional 11.9, 23.9, and 21 percent in funding, respectively. The AAUP attributes these gains to "improving conditions in the energy industry," and subsequently the improved economies of those states.

ONE OF THE REPORT'S MOST revealing sections is its salary appendix. The appendix breaks down average salary, compensation and tenure information by professorial rank and gender. Universities from all 50 states and Puerto Rico are included in the appendix.

With an average salary of $83,700 (rounded to the nearest hundred) across all professorial ranks, OU ranks third highest among Ohio's public universities. Topping the chart is Ohio State University, with an average salary of $110,300. Even OSU's "instructors" (a rank that OU has not reported since 2007) make a yearly average of $94,000 - significantly more than what OU's associate or assistant professors receive.

OU appears to fare better when compared to other universities in the Mid-American Conference (MAC), an NCAA division I athletic conference. The university ranks second behind the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. SUNY Buffalo boasts an average salary across all ranks of $101,400.

The OU Faculty Senate's resolution on raise pools asserts that presenting faculty salaries in the manner of the AAUP report can actually be misleading. A clause from the April 8 resolution (up for second reading May 6) reads, "Mean faculty salaries, as a statistic, obscure actual salaries among the majority of faculty because a few very high salaries weight the average upward."

Faculty Senate Chair Elizabeth Sayr stated in an email that "average by rank (or median) is a more useful comparison [than overall mean salaries]."

The idea is echoed in the Senate's resolution entitled "Principles for the Task Force on Total Faculty Compensation" (also up for second reading May 6). It recommends that OU utilizes "the mean and median [for] each rank" as a benchmark for salary, rather than only the overall mean.

An example of how the use of overall mean salary can distort the perception of a university's salary ranking can be seen in the AAUP report.

"We rarely have any tenure-track faculty with a ranking of 'Instructor,' which is why we do not have average salaries listed for that category," explained Elizabeth Bennett of OU's Office of Institutional Research in an email. OU only reports salary information for full-time, tenure track personnel.

The lack of the instructor rank, which is generally paid less than other professorial ranks, may explain how OU's average faculty salary surpasses that of other schools, such as Kent State University and Miami University. Although OU professors, on average, earn less than professors at Kent or Miami, the across-the-board averages for those schools drop with the inclusion of the instructor rank salary.

The resolution also criticizes last year's 6.3 percent increase in OU President Roderick McDavis' base salary, a move backed by the Board of Trustees and justified by purported inequalities between the OU president's salary, and that of presidents at other public four-year universities. The same standards of equity, the resolution states, should be applied to OU faculty salaries - not only those of its top administrators.

The raise pool resolution calls for raises in faculty salaries "across all ranks... and across all disciplines and campuses." The resolution suggests the raises be enacted "in approximately equal, annual steps over the next three years so... faculty salaries in each rank, group and location [are] ranked no lower than third among those of all Ohio publicly assisted universities."

In order to maintain competitiveness of faculty salaries, the resolution calls for the dedication of a portion of the university's base expenditure toward necessary salary adjustments.

"We have advocated strongly for faculty salaries to match our academic standing in the state (top three), primarily so that we can recruit and retain the outstanding faculty that are central to the high quality education at OU," Faculty Senate President Sayrs said. "This is critical as we rebuild our core faculty after the recent early-retirement incentive" in which many senior faculty members were lost.

Issues with salary growth exist in universities across the country, particularly among those in the public sector, according to the AAUP report. "Even though the Great Recession of 2007-09 was declared formally over for the U.S. economy as a whole, the recessionary period for higher education continues." The AAUP document reports that, on a national level, "very slow recovery" is underway for full-time faculty salaries. Even so, the growth fails in most cases to meet the rate of inflation.

More information on university salaries, including the Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession in its entirety, can be found online at For the full Faculty Senate resolutions, visit the Senate's page at


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