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NEA News

5 Things To Know About Faculty Pay Today

The bad news? Salaries may be up, but purchasing power is down and gaps still exist for women and faculty at historically Black colleges and universities. The good news? Unions make a big difference.
higher ed pay Moses Mitchell Photography
Published: April 30, 2024

Key Takeaways


The percentage decrease in faculty's purchasing power in 2023.


How much more union faculty at community colleges are paid—compared to non-union faculty in the same states.

Every spring, the National Education Association dives into faculty salaries, producing a comprehensive report on current trends in faculty pay, which includes a list of average salaries at every public college and university in the United States. Wondering which colleges pay the most? The least? Or wondering what academic fields are most lucrative? Take a look.

This year's report shows how the pandemic continues to affect salaries through inflation, and how the best paid faculty in the U.S. is most likely still a white man teaching medicine in California... (And the worst? An untenured woman, probably teaching library science, maybe at a historically Black college or university.)

Here are five things to know about faculty salaries today:

1) Salaries might be a little higher, but you’d never know it.

While faculty salaries increased, on average, by 4 percent between 2021-2022 and 2022-2023, the cost of food, housing, gas, etc., increased by 6 percent over the same time. Consequently, faculty’s purchasing power actually declined by 1.6 percent. This comes on top of a 5 percent decline in purchasing power the previous year.

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Today, it’s almost impossible for younger faculty members to buy homes, says Lisa Botshon, president of the University of Maine Augusta chapter of the NEA-affiliated Associated Faculties of Maine. “Housing costs are high, and not only that, here in Maine, it’s a very closed market for rentals. It’s really a very stressful situation,” she says—and it’s particularly hard on those with small children who also must pay the rising costs of childcare.

As University of Maine faculty go to the bargaining table this year, Botshon is looking for state legislators to step up. “As in many states, [Maine’s legislature] is contributing significantly less to the university system than it was two decades ago. One of the results is this lack of investment in faculty,” she says.

And the results of that lack of investment? It’s harder to hire new faculty, and it’s harder for current faculty to inspire, motivate, engage, and serve students. “[This work] already requires a tremendous amount of time and creativity, and that’s great—if you’re supported,” says Botshon. “If you’re not, and if you’re stressed out about the material conditions in which you’re working, you are not your best self in your classroom. [UM Augusta] is a teaching institution, and we are super dedicated to our students. It’s very frustrating when we can’t be there for students in the way we want to be. It's clearly about public support—are we invested in our students or not?”

Quote byLisa Botshon , University of Maine Augusta

“[This work] already requires a tremendous amount of time and creativity, and that’s great—if you’re supported. If you’re not, and if you’re stressed out about the material conditions in which you’re working, you are not your best self in your classroom."
—Lisa Botshon , University of Maine Augusta
Lisa Botshon


The data is clear: faculty who teach at colleges or university with faculty unions are paid more money than non-union faculty, even in the same states.

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Community college faculty see the largest advantage: at 2-year colleges, faculty who collectively bargain for their pay earned $19,000 more than their colleagues who worked in the same states but without union contracts in 2023, and they earned $25,000 more than 2-year faculty in states without collective bargaining. At research universities, the difference is also significant: union faculty earned $7,000 more, on average, than non-union faculty in the same states, and $17,000 more than their peers in states without collective bargaining.

At Hudson County Community College in New Jersey, pay wasn’t the only reason that faculty overhauled and recharged their union in 2018—but it was among them. That year, Hudson faculty were among the lowest paid in the state. They had a contract that had expired two years earlier. And their union wasn’t even holding meetings.

Tony Acevedo
Tony Acevedo

“We were in a pretty dire situation. People would get tenure, which is very difficult to do, but they’d still leave for jobs that paid more,” recalls Tony Acevedo, a Hudson County Community College Professional Association (HCCCPA) leader. That year, a team of faculty members ran for office, promising to revitalize the union and make it a strong, inclusive force on campus.

And they did. Today, not only is almost every faculty member engaged in the union through member-led committees, but their average pay is approaching the state’s median for community colleges. With a sharp focus on salary equity—that is raising the pay for its most underpaid members—the new union team bargained for raises ranging from 9 to 29.5 percent in year one of its first 3-year contract, followed by across-the-board 4 percent raises. In its second 3-year contract, the bargaining team followed up with raises that ranged up to 19 percent in year one, followed by across-the-board 3 percent raises. That contract expires next year.

Today, union meetings are active, participatory, and highly productive, says HCCPA President Michael Ferlise. There is more work to do, of course, but union members have shown their power and will be using it.

3) It might be 2024 but women faculty are still paid less.

On average, women faculty were paid 85 percent of men’s wages in 2023, which was about the same as the national disparity for all women workers in the U.S.

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Community colleges can boast of the smallest difference—with women faculty getting paid about 96 to 98 percent of what their male colleagues are paid. However, community college faculty are among the lowest-paid faculty in the U.S., period. The largest disparity is at research universities, where women constitute only about a third of full professors—the highest and best-paid rank—but nearly two-thirds of the lowest or non-ranked professors. On average, women are paid 83 percent of men’s salaries at research universities.

With their attention to equity, unions can—and do—help with gender-based pay disparities. Unions also can—and do—negotiate for family-friendly policies around parental leave and subsidized childcare that help all faculty, but especially women, climb the career ladder to the best-paying jobs.

4) It might be 2024 but faculty at historically Black college and universities are also still paid less!

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5) Graduate workers need unions.

On average, the university workers who teach classes and conduct research, usually while pursuing their own advanced degrees, earned $19,000 in 2022-2023.

Making matters worse, many grad workers don’t get university-provided health care benefits. So, between the costs of medical care, food, rent, and transportation, it’s nearly impossible for them to pay the bills. That’s why grad workers at Virginia Tech launched a living wage campaign in 2020, and then organized a new grad-employee union in 2024. They’re part of a growing movement, which saw the number of grad-worker unions grow from 54 in 2021 to 84 by July 2023.

Through the living-wage campaign, Va Tech’s grad workers won base pay raises, but they varied by college and often they were outweighed by increases in the fees that the workers are required to pay as students, notes Aileen Suarez, president of Tech’s Graduate Labor Union. “You might get a 2 percent raise, but then fees go up by 7 percent. For me, the fees are $191 out of every paycheck, almost $400 a month,” says Suarez, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in the College of Engineering while working full-time as a research assistant.

To make ends meet, Suarez needs three roommates—and they can’t even afford to live in Blacksburg, where Va Tech is located. “It’s not Boston or New York, but considering how rural it is, why is a one-bedroom $1,500 a month?”  she says. “We haven’t even scratched the surface of what a living wage is.”

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