Typical Salaries for College Professors, Higher Fees for Students?

Will the increase of typical salaries for college professors ultimately affect average salaries for college grads? That’s a question raised in a recent article in the New York Times. More public universities are charging higher prices for certain college courses in order to pay for equipment and college professor salaries – those who teach "premium" classes. For example, this fall at Rutgers, general ed tuition will be $8,541, but business students will ante up $8,716, while pharmacy and engineering majors will shell out $9,484.

The idea behind this multi-tier system is that the average salaries for college grads, those taking "premium" courses, will be higher in the long run, so why not charge them more? But some educators worry that increasing certain college course fees is unfair to lower income kids who will have to take lower priced courses, thus resulting in a lifetime of lower average salaries for college grads. Does this undermine equal opportunity, or actually prepare students for the "free market?"

How does your salary compare to typical salaries for college professors?  Find out with our salary survey.

Average Salaries Different College Degrees

Some of the schools that are planning to use the premium college course price-hike include the University of Wisconsin, where juniors and seniors in business school will pay $500 more (each semester) than their peers, and Arizona State University, which will charge upperclassmen in the journalism school an extra $250 (per semester) above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state students.

Ouch; journalism is a “high-paying profession?” Hmm, let’s look at the typical journalist salary via the PayScale Research Center. The data shows that the average salaries for journalists in major cities range from $30,015 (San Diego and Miami), to $42,771 (New York) and $50,025 (Chicago). Even the higher-end, $42,771, is not a whole lot for someone living in New York City where rent usually starts at $1000.

Journalists definitely are not on a high paid career path; their pay is on the low end of all college graduates. Journalism professors, unlike, e.g. computer science professors, are not raking in the big bucks, because there is no high paying industry drawing them away from academia.

Perhaps the colleges introducing differential tuition are really just constructing a clever public relations (PR) ploy. Choosing journalism for higher tuition rates really smacks of playing the PR angle. After all, many journalists went to journalism school.

Let’s face it – if Rutgers or ASU simply increased all tuition by an extra few percent to raise the same revenue, I wouldn’t be blogging about it. The PR angle is working 🙂

Starting Salaries out of College

Colleges that already have instituted price increases include the University of Nebraska, which charges engineering students a $40 “premium” for each hour of class credit. If the word “premium” sounds oddly familiar, that’s because the buzz word has become a favorite of marketing experts. Many industries, especially airlines, use the word “premium” to charge extra for what they used to include for free, or as part of general services (note to self: consider charging a “premium” to include periods at the end of sentences).

At Iowa State, last year, undergrads (juniors and seniors) in the engineering school started shelling out around an extra $500 annually, and that is scheduled to rise by $500, yearly, until 2009. Will those grads earn a large salary once they graduate? Well, I don’t have a crystal ball (neither does Iowa State), but if we look at the PayScale Research Center, we see that a civil engineer, with less than a year of experience, earns an average salary of $44,355; those with 5-9 years earn an average of $59,764, and veterans with 20 years or more take in $74,852.

College Professor Salaries

What about the increase in college professor salaries that is contributing to the premium fees? According to G. Dan Parker III, associate executive vice president of Texas A&M, college professor salaries in business schools have increased, with some paying $130,000 (or more) to start.  Mr. Parker told the New York Times, “The salaries we pay for entering assistant professors on average is probably larger than the average salary for full professors at the university.”

According to the PayScale Research Center, a typical assistant professor, with 5-9 years of experience, normally earns an annual salary of $52,000, while a typical full professor after 20 years is earning $94,000.  Mr. Parker is correct; assistant professors earning $130,000/year teaching “premium” business classes are clearly out earning the “average” full professors by quite a bit.

What happens if you don’t pay teachers in high demand occupations enough? You don’t have enough teachers. This is happening in nursing. As discussed in a recent Time Magazine article, community colleges, which teach most of the nurses, don’t have a way to pay nursing teachers more, so are short-staffed as teachers leave for better paying jobs. Because of the lack of teachers, the colleges are turning away qualified students who want to become nurses.

Sounds like a vicious cycle: shortage of nurses leads to higher pay; higher pay draws nursing teachers away from teaching; shortage of nursing teachers leads to a shortage of nurses!

Issues with Low Teacher Salaries Versus Other College Costs

This new fee-salary system is occuring at public, not private, universities, so the idea of equal education for the public is slowly being turned on its ear. However, public universities say they have no choice, as college professor salaries increase, equipment costs go up and state lawmakers refuse to raise general tuition.

This gets at another motivation for differential fees: state legislators want to say that they have held tuition increases in check, but they are unwilling to provide money from general tax funds at the level the universities require.

The universities are using Ronald Reagan’s trick. While Reagan was opposed to tax increases, it is amazing how many user “fees” his administration invented. However, he had a rule: if it walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, it is a duck. An across the board “fee” would “walk and sound” too much like a forbidden tuition increase.

Is your salary closer to the average salaries for college grads or college professors? The PayScale Salary Calculator is a quick and easy way to compare positions. When you want powerful salary data and comparisons customized for your exact position, be sure to build a complete profile by taking PayScale’s full salary survey.


Dr. Al Lee