Why we need a union

Higher Education Today: A Corporate Model About to Boil Over

The Facts Illustrate a Need for Dramatic Change in Faculty Pay

Once a middle class job, many college and university faculty are now working part time for very low pay, isolated from colleagues without job security, benefits or even office space. Students are increasingly saddled with crushing debt that could take a lifetime to get out from under. Parents are struggling to stay afloat in the face of skyrocketing tuition bills.

The past few decades have seen a dramatic shift away from investment in educators and affordable, accessible higher education for students toward a big-business model where corporate boards and their administrators — many of whom have never set foot in a classroom — determine how to spend precious tuition revenue.

And now that long simmering crisis is about to boil over.

What’s happened in higher education reflects the rest of the economy where the people in charge are seeing their salaries rise dramatically, while everyone else is losing ground.

Post-Secondary Administrative Salaries are Way Up

  • Over the last 35 years, top administrators pay increased at 3 times the rate of faculty.[1]
  • From 1978-79 to 2013-14, the average salary of CEOs at public institutions rose by 75 percent, the average increase for CEOs at private institutions was about 170 percent.[2]

Spending on Instruction is Down

We need a dramatic change in priorities at universities because students and faculty are getting a raw deal.

  • Although in-state tuition has increased 94 percent at public institutions and 74 percent at private, non-profit colleges and universities between 2003 and 2013, they spent less than a third of their revenue on instruction in 2013.[3]
  • At private universities, the percentage of revenue spent on instruction went down 24 percent from 2001 -2012.[4]
  • The average tuition cost at a private university was $29,056 for 2012-13[5], but schools on average only spent $10,955 per student on instruction.[6]

America’s College Professors are Often Low Wage Workers

Two-thirds of instructional faculty are now non-tenure track. In 1969, tenured and tenure-track positions made up approximately 78.3 percent of the faculty, and non-tenure track positions comprised about 21.7 percent.[7] In 2013, tenured and tenure-track faculty had declined to 34 percent, and 66 percent of faculty were ineligible for tenure.[8]

  • In 2013, part-time faculty represented 45 percent of all teaching faculty at degree-granting institutions[9], up from 34 percent in 1987 and 22 percent in 1970.[10]

College professors are teaching more students, but most of them have seen a decrease in their pay and a significant number are in or near poverty.

  • Since 2007, faculty pay has stagnated (including for tenure and tenure track positions) and down in real dollars for most, except those who teach at doctoral institutions.[11]
  • Many faculty members, both full and part-time, are struggling to make ends meet.
    • 31 percent of part time faculty members and 14 percent of all faculty are living near or below the federal poverty level.
    • 22 percentof part time faculty members earn less than the federal poverty level.[12]

In an SEIU report called Crisis at the Boiling Point,  hundreds of contingent faculty respondents were asked to calculate the number of hours they work, and among those who provided sufficient data, approximately:

  • 16 percent are paid below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour;
  • 24 percent are paid below $10/hour; and
  • 43 percent are paid below $15/hour.

Many work full-time hours and most put in a significant amount of time outside the classroom, even being asked or assumed to work unpaid.

  • Although by definition an adjunct is “part-time,” 40 percent say they work more than 40 hours a week for their university employer(s).
  • Almost all respondents say they are asked or expected to perform work outside the classroom and 28 percent indicated that they spend more than 20 hours a week on work-related tasks outside of the classroom.
  • When asked if they have ever been asked or expected to perform work that they were not paid for by their academic employers, 73 percent of survey respondents stated “yes” or “maybe.” Examples of unpaid work they have performed, include: advising students enrolled in the major or minor; writing recommendations; attending trainings; presenting talks on campus; advising student groups; attending student events; sitting on committees; planning and presenting at orientation or informational meetings for the department; and designing or developing new courses.


[1] http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/2014%20salary%20report/figure2.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Title IV participating, public 4 year or above; private and not-for-profit 4 year of above. Total instruction expense and Total revenue and investment returns and Total all revenues and other additions; Final release data, 2012-2013.

[4] Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Title IV participating, private, not-for-profit 4 year of above institutions. Total instruction expense and Total revenue and investment returns; Final release data, 2012-2013 and 2001-2002.

[5] Trends in College Pricing, 2012, College Board Advocacy and Policy Center. http://trends.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/college-pricing-2012-full-report_0.pdf.

[6] Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Title IV participating, private, not-for-profit 4 year of above institutions. Instruction expenses- total 2012-2013. 12-month unduplicated headcount, 2012-2013; and in-state and out-of-state average tuition for full time undergraduates, 2012-2013.

[7] “The Changing Faculty and Student Success: National Trends for Faculty Composition Over Time,” University of Southern California Rossier, Pullias Center for Higher Education, accessed October 3, 2013, http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Delphi-NTTF_National-Trends-for-Faculty- Composition_WebPDF.pdf.

[8] Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). All Title IV participating institutions. All institutional faculty employees and all institutional faculty employees not on tenure track/no tenure system, excluding medical employees. Final release data, 2013.

[9] Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). All Title IV participating institutions. All and part time institutional employees with faculty status excluding medical employees. Final release data, 2013.

[10] National Center for Educational Statistics. Number of instructional faculty in degree-granting institutions, by employment status, sex, control, and level of institution: Selected years, fall 1970 through fall 2011. Table 290. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_290.asp.

[11] http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/files/2014%20salary%20report/TableC.pdf.

[12] American Community Survey, 2008-2012, retrieved on 1/27/2015. Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2010. https://usa.ipums.org/usa/cite.shtml. Author analysis on file. Near poverty is defined as less than 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. Below poverty is defined as less than 100% of the Federal Poverty Level.

[13] Ibid.


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