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NEA News

Faculty Pay: The HBCU Penalty and the Gender Gap

The latest NEA report on full-time faculty pay shows where faculty get paid best — and worst. Hint: Union members do better than most.
Published: 04/25/2021

Key Takeaways

  1. Overall, full-time faculty pay has improved over the past decade, since the Great Recession. The average full-time professor earned about $90,000 last year.
  2. Faculty at HBCU pay a penalty for their dedication to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). They get paid about $18,000 less, on average, than faculty at non-HBCUs.
  3. Women also get paid less, on average. This is largely because the best-paid professors are working at large, research institutions where men outnumber women.

The highest-paid faculty member in the U.S. is likely a man, working in a law school or maybe a business school, at a doctoral-granting research institution. He’s very unlikely to be at a historically Black college or university (HBCUs). Definitely not teaching English or library science.

He’s also very likely to be a union member.

These rough conclusions are based on the latest NEA Higher Education Special Salary report, which dives deeply into the salaries paid to full-time faculty members in the United States. Published this month, it documents the HBCU pay penalty; the “union difference” among faculty; the persistent gender gap; and more.

In early 2020, the salaries of full-time faculty were better than they had been in a decade, the report found. In fact, faculty purchasing power — that is faculty’s annual average salary, corrected for inflation — was about $4,000 higher than 2010-2011.

On average, a full-time faculty member earned $90,749, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, or 2 percent more than in 2019. However, average pay varies quite a lot within higher education, depending on the type of institution and the “rank” of a faculty member. Across the board, tenured professors at large, doctoral-granting research institutions are paid most.

Of course, since this data was collected, the pandemic has turned higher education on its head. Thousands of higher-education staff and adjunct faculty have been laid off. As student enrollment at the nation’s two-year colleges falls, more cuts may be ahead. Then again, the Biden administration just made the largest-ever, one-time investment in public education, including $40 billion to the nation’s colleges. It’s unclear what the future holds.

higher ed salary

This Year’s Special Salary Report

For decades, NEA has been tracking salary trends among full-time faculty members across the U.S. Its annual report cuts and compares salaries in countless ways — by states, by academic fields, by gender, by rank, by institution type — and it includes average salaries for every public institution in the U.S.

This year’s report echoes many previous findings, specifically:

  • There is a persistent penalty paid by faculty at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). On average, HBCU faculty earn $18,000 less than those teaching in non-HBCU institutions, with HBCU faculty earning about $69,180, on average, compared to $87,385 for faculty in non-HBCUs.
  • Women faculty are still paid less, on average. This is largely because the large majority of the best-paid, full professors at research universities are men.
  • Graduate assistant labor is cheap. The average stipend was just $18,000 last year. Is it any surprise that this is a growing segment among academic unions?
  • The union difference is real. In other words, when faculty can bargain for better pay and working conditions, they win them. Faculty with collective bargaining agreements earn $93,000, on average, compared to $79,000 among faculty who not only don’t have their own contracts but work in states where no faculty do.
National Education Association

Great public schools for every student

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.