Survey Reveals Full-time Faculty Suffer Losses from COVID-19

Updated Apr 15, 2021

The number of full-time faculty decreased at most U.S. colleges and universities and full-time faculty wages, adjusted for inflation, also decreased at most institutions, based on the latest Faculty Compensation Survey conducted by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

The 2020-21 survey, which ended in March, included 929 U.S. colleges and universities providing employment data for nearly 380,000 full-time faculty members as well as senior administrators at nearly 600 institutions.

A key finding among the survey results was that real wages for full-time faculty decreased for the first time since the Great Recession, and average wage growth for all ranks of full-time faculty was the lowest since the AAUP began tracking annual wage growth in 1972.

The number of full-time faculty declined at 62% of institutions during the survey period and the average wage growth for all ranks of full-time faculty was the lowest since the tracking began in 1972. After adjusting for inflation, real wages decreased at over two-thirds of colleges and universities.

“At a time when many institutions were already struggling financially, many lowered their expenditures by enacting hiring freezes, salary cuts, fringe benefit cuts, furloughs, and layoffs,” the AAUP stated. The survey results showed how these actions have affected faculty members.Faculty Salary1547520018 E1618425046370

Many faculty who remained at their institutions were subjected to freezes or reductions in wages. Nearly 60% of the institutions surveyed implemented salary freezes or reductions and about 30 % eliminated or reduced some form of fringe benefits. “To understand the ways in which institutions responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAUP also asked participating institutions to identify how many faculty members–both tenure-line and non-tenure-track–were impacted by actions taken by institutions,” the report states.

Faculty who work year to year and lack tenure status were hardest hit.

“The brunt was felt by contingent faculty who are more likely to be women and minorities. That’s the way the numbers break down,” AAUP senior researcher Glenn Colby. “It’s infuriating.”

In terms of pay, average salaries, which increased slightly, were deceptive.

“After you adjust for inflation, the real salary decreased,” Colby told Diverse. “In nominal terms the average salary increased 1% but the inflation rate was 1.4%, so salaries did not keep up with inflation overall.” Information on part-time faculty was not included in the survey.

In response to COVID-19, nearly 60% of the institutions surveyed implemented salary freezes or reductions and about 30% eliminated or reduced some form of fringe benefits. Over 5% either did not reappoint or terminated contracts for at least some tenure-line faculty. And more than 20% either did not renew or terminated contracts for at least some non-tenure-track faculty.

Almost 10% implemented furloughs for at least some faculty; more than 50% took some other action for tenure-line faculty; the most common action was some type of early retirement program. Almost 50 % implemented tenure-clock modifications for at least some tenure-track faculty.

Results on faculty numbers varied by types of institutions. Full-time faculty increased very slightly at public institutions and dropped at other institution types. The number of full-time faculty members increased 0.1 percent at public institutions, decreased 0.6% at private independent institutions, and decreased 2.4% at private religiously affiliated institutions.

Among specific findings:

  • At 26% of institutions, the number of full-time faculty members decreased at least 5%.
  • Average salaries decreased at 42% of colleges and universities surveyed. Real wages decreased at 68% of colleges and universities after adjusting for inflation.
  • Average salary growth varied by institutional control and religious affiliation. Average salaries increased 1.1% among public and private religiously affiliated colleges and universities, while average salaries among private independent institutions increased 0.2%.
  • At doctoral institutions, average salaries increased 0.6%; after adjusting for inflation, real wages decreased 0.8%. For master’s and baccalaureate institutions, average salaries increased 0.8 and 0.1% respectively. After adjusting for inflation, real wages decreased 0.6 and 1.3% respectively.
  • Associate’s-awarding institutions with faculty ranking systems saw average salaries increase 1.7%, which was an increase of 0.3% after adjusting for inflation. For associate’s institutions without faculty ranking systems, average salaries decreased 2.7%, a decrease of 4.1% after adjusting for inflation.