Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are Professors' Salaries Responsible for Tuition Increases?

Why does college tuition go up every year? According to Vice President Joe Biden, higher faculty salaries provide a partial explanation. “Salaries for college professors have escalated significantly,” Vice President Biden said recently. (June, 2012, p. A1).
But the AAUP disagrees. According to a recent AAUP report, faculty salaries have not kept up with inflation. Professors have only received modest raises in recent years, especially compared to college presidents, who are doing just fine financially.
Don't Blame Me!
I partly agree with the AAUP report.  College professors do not make a lot of money. Although faculty at elite universities like Harvard and Stanford command high salaries, the professors at community colleges and regional state universities like the one where I work are not highly paid.
It would be a mistake, however, to conclude that professors have not contributed to higher tuition rates at our colleges and universities, because in fact they share part of the blame.  Here are some examples of the way professors contribute to out-of-control college costs.
·         When a professor insists on getting a course release to design a new course instead of doing the work as part of the professor’s regular work load, college costs increase.
·         When a professor uses college funds to deliver a mediocre academic paper at a conference in Europe simply to get an expense-paid trip to an exotic locale, that action wastes a college’s money.
·         When professors cap enrollment in their graduate courses at unreasonably low levels in order to teach smaller classes, those decisions increase a college’s costs.
·         When professors unilaterally decide to end their work weeks on Thursday instead of Friday, as many of them do, those individual decisions have a financial impact.
In short, many decisions that professors make to reduce their job responsibilities or serve their own selfish interests have an impact on the cost of doing business at our nation’s colleges and universities. Therefore, it would be misleading to say that the nation’s college professors have not contributed to the spiraling cost of attending college.
And who pays the price for the colleges’ inefficiencies—including inefficiencies in the way professors work?  We know the answer. Students pay the price as they borrow more and more money to pay escalating tuition costs.
June, A. W. (2012, April 13). College’s cost isn’t due to jumps in pay, AAUP says. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A1.
Thornton, S., & Curtis, J. W. (2012). A very slow recovery. Washington, DC: American Association of University Professors. Accessible at

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