is higher tuition a faculty pay raise in disguise?

A number of analyses have shown that (a) college tuition has outpaced inflation, (b) administrators have increased in number and in cost, and (c) graduate student and faculty pay have remained flat. This isn’t to say that the only force behind higher tuition is administrative growth, but it’s certainly one important factor. The way that this normally interpreted is that you have greedy administrators who are just voting themselves raises which, in the absence of competition, go unrestrained.

Here is a slightly different framing. Increased college costs are a collective pay increase for faculty. How? It helps to realize that faculty salaries are fairly constrained. In the arts and sciences, salaries top out at, about $95k, for full professors at most colleges. Research profs can add about $10k, liberal arts can subtract $10k. Not bad, but still modest compared to top professionals in other fields. It also helps to realize that people start hitting the full professor rank in their forties, which means you could have 20-30 years of work with few pay increases in real terms.

The solution? Stop being a professor. Switch to a more fluid labor market for executives. Unlike professor jobs, your skills are portable and there is actual demand. Luckily, there has been a recent increase in college cash flows, so the budget is bigger. If you believe this story, then the escalation of tuition and costs is simply society’s way of paying more to people who used to get “stuck” at the full professor level. They’re just called associate deans now.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 9, 2014 at 12:01 am

4 Responses

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  1. I’ve never really understood why people harp on the “tuition is rising faster than inflation” comparison. For a labor-intensive organization like a university, where something like 80% of costs are in personnel, inflation isn’t the right benchmark. Even in the absence of any growth in the number or wage/salary pay of employees, you’d expect the annual increase in the costs of running a university to rise at a rate much closer to the annual increase in health care and benefits.

    At any rate, Fabio’s case that rising tuition is a collective pay raise for faculty only works if most of the growth in admins and deanlets has been on the academic side, where you can make the case that the jobs are on the career ladder for academics (whether heading up or down, I don’t know). At my university, the biggest growth in admin has definitely been in the non-academic side: the mental health professionals, the development office, the communications office, the “risk management” professionals and lawyers, the compliance officers (EEOC, animal care, research ethics, etc), the diversity deans, various data collecting and analyzing specialists, the student advising deans, etc. Very few of these folks hold PhDs, and even fewer were ever professorial faculty.



    May 9, 2014 at 11:07 am

  2. What krippendorf said…

    The deanlets at my institution are all “higher education professionals” with degrees in “higher education” that allow them to work in higher education. They don’t seem to be in the business of educating anyone, but they do get paid higher than many faculty.



    May 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm

  3. Extremely interesting. Thank you.



    May 10, 2014 at 6:12 am

  4. You’ve given a nice testable hypothesis. Tests:

    1. We should see less admin bloat in business schools where top salaries aren’t constrained. Admin bloat should be largest in those fields with the least propensity for paying salary enhancements.

    2. Countries in which prof salaries are higher relative to other prifessionals will see less admin bloat. The prof range in NZ is 135-170k NZD; this is much higher than professional salaries in most areas. So NZ should have little admin bloat.

    I would bet heavily against 2 holding at least.


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