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Here’s what the average full-time professor made last year

Pay increases for college professors are slowly on the rise, but continue to lag far behind those of senior administrators and athletics leaders on campus.

That's one of the findings in an annual study of professors' pay and college spending, released today by the American Association of University Professors. It reports that for the first time in five years, average pay increases for all full-time faculty members slightly beat the rate of inflation, rising 2.2 percent on average. Full professors at public doctoral institutions made $126,981 in salary in the 2013-2014 academic year, and instructors at those schools made $50,032.

Presidents of public doctoral institutions, meanwhile, saw their salaries rise 11.3 percent on average over the past seven years. And presidents at top private universities saw even higher average raises: 17.3 percent over the same period, compared to 7.2 percent for professors at the same schools. (Private schools tend to pay their faculty more.) Pay for senior administrators, such as chief academic officers or chief financial officers, saw increases similar in scale to their presidents, or even higher, at both public and private doctoral institutions.

Saranna Thornton, a professor of economics and business at Hampden-Sydney College and the chair of AAUP's Committee on the Economic Status of the Profession, says that no one expects faculty and presidents to get paid the same amount. Even if the salary growth rate were the same, she explains, there's an understanding that the two pay scales would deviate over time. "But even accounting for that divergence," she says, "we're still seeing, particularly in past decades, presidential salaries skyrocketing." 

So have those of head coaches. The study found that between the 2005-2006 academic year and 2011-2012, the median compensation for men's head basketball coaches at NCAA's Division I-A  schools went up 102 percent. For head football coaches, it was 93 percent. Over the same period, meanwhile, the growth in median compensation for professors at doctoral institutions was just 4 percent.

Even among less popular sports, there was a big difference in coaches' and professors' pay. Men's tennis coaches at Division I-AAA schools, for instance, saw a 20 percent increase over the seven-year period. Administrators "have been saying we’d like to give faculty increases but we can’t afford to," Thornton says. "Then we see the kind of increases in what coaches are getting, even in lower [divisions] in minor sports that are not revenue generating."

The study also compared the changes in how universities are spending their money. At public four-year institutions, spending on instruction rose just 0.9 percent per full-time enrolled student between the 2003-2004 and 2010-2011 school years, and academic support costs rose 1.5 percent. Meanwhile, spending per student athlete rose 24.8 percent. While the low academic increases partly reflect state cutbacks in appropriations for public universities, private four-year institutions also saw a sizable differential: Spending on instruction grew 5.1 percent over the eight- year period, while athletic spending grew 28.9 percent.

"The biggest takeaway is that the education mission of institutions is becoming less and less important," Thompson says. Athletics and administrative functions are getting increasing shares of the budget, she says. In some cases, that's understandable, due to necessary costs that have grown inherently over time, such as technology spending. But in other cases it's driven by universities' efforts to make their campuses more attractive as competition for students grows.

"One of the myths that we want to explode," Thornton says, "is that it’s faculty salaries that are driving the increase in higher education."

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