How Much Do College Professors Make in 2023?
Of course you’ve entertained yourself through a lecture by imagining yourself in the place of your professor—spectacles perched on your nose, chalkboard filled with brilliant scribbles behind you, as you eloquently explain the universe’s most confounding ideas. But maybe that vision has become more than just a daydream for you. Whether you’ve always wanted to teach at a university level or you’ve found yourself considering a new career path, you’ll need to start considering the job’s realities. One big factor is, of course, a professor’s salary. You’ll need to ask, how much do college professors make? How much do full professors make? Then how much do associate professors make? Then how much do assistant professors make? Or how much do lecturers make? And how much do adjunct professors make? Let’s dive in!
University-level teaching roles off the tenure track
Okay, I know you’ve asked for the average professor salary. And I’ll tell you! But before that, I’ll go over the different roles someone hoping to become a college professor could encounter in the United States. I’ll start with the roles that usually don’t include tenure or the eligibility for tenure. Keep in mind that all five of these descriptions are fairly general and bare-bones as the specifics of each role varies by institution.
- Adjunct professors work part-time, sometimes for one school, or sometimes for several different schools. Typically, they teach one to two classes at each school they’re employed by. Many adjunct professors have a hard time making enough money to live off of when employed by only one school. So they often pay the bills by piecing together their schedules/paychecks if they are able to. In addition to teaching, adjunct professors often need to hold office hours and grade assignments.
- Lecturers (sometimes referred to as instructors) work full-time for one school, teaching a full load of classes. They do not have tenure contracts. Instead, they have short term contracts, typically renewed yearly. They design course outlines and deliver lectures, seminars, and/or workshops. But they often do not have additional obligations beyond teaching.
University-level teaching roles on the tenure track
Still, you’re wondering, how much do college professors make? But we’re not there yet! Next, I’ll go over the roles that do include tenure or the eligibility for tenure.
- Assistant professor is an entry-level role and sometimes the first step on the tenure track. But sometimes this role does not have the possibility of tenure. In other words, while an assistant professor does not have tenure either way, this role can sometimes lead to tenure if they move up to become an associate professor. Assistant professors can work part-time or full-time, depending on the school’s needs. They often teach introductory courses or courses with pre-designed curriculum. Also, they need to hold office hours and grade assignments.
- Mid-level between assistant and full, associate professors do have tenure. Associate professors do many of the same tasks as assistant professors. For example, both are expected to teach, hold office hours, and grade assignments. But associate professors often have more control over which classes they teach and how they teach them. Also, they have the option to go on a sabbatical every 7th year.
Professor Salary (Continued)
- Full professors have risen to senior-level. Like associate professors, full professors have tenure and the option to go on sabbaticals. Continuing with the common teaching duties, they also focus on expanding their research and/or body of work. They usually have more flexible schedules and more say in how or when they teach. They can even sometimes create entirely new classes for the university. And they often have a say in hiring decisions for the department.
So how much do college professors make?
Finally, now we’re ready to take a look at average full-time salaries across the United States in 2022-2023 according to the American Association of University Professors. And don’t worry if you’re still asking, how much do adjunct professors make? We’ll take a look at that next.
|Average across these institution types||Public institutions||Private or independent institutions||Religiously affiliated institutions|
As shown, salaries can vary depending on whether a professor works at a public, private, or religiously affiliated institution. Additionally, professors who teach at any of these three types of institutions would make more than professors who teach at community colleges or similar institutions.
How much do adjunct professors make?
As I mentioned above, many adjunct professors struggle to make the money they need. In a 2022 report by the American Federation of Teachers, only 20% of the adjunct faculty who responded said they can live comfortably with what they earn teaching.
In the same report, 25% said they earn less than $25,000 annually, which is below the federal poverty line for families of four. 33% said they earn less than $50,000 annually. And 38% said they use government assistance.
As I also mentioned above, many adjunct professors end up having to piece together a schedule by working for several different schools. Almost 50% of the adjunct faculty who responded said they earn less than $3,500 per entire course they teach. Meaning, no matter how much extra time and energy they put into supporting their students’ learning, they will still only get paid this small, fixed rate. So having to piece together their schedule can cost them a lot of extra time and effort, without adequate compensation in return.
Professor Salary (Continued)
On top of struggling with monthly expenses, 63.7% said they’ve postponed dental care due to lack of insurance or unaffordable copays. 43.3% said they’ve postponed medical or mental health care services for the same reason. While another 43.3% said they didn’t go to a healthcare professional at all when they couldn’t afford to. For those who did eventually see a healthcare professional when needed, 17.6% cut costs by not filling their prescription. And 27.2% cut costs by declining the medical test or treatment their doctor recommended.
Then on top of struggling with monthly and medical expenses, 36.5% said they cannot imagine how they will ever afford retirement. So how much do adjunct professors make? Usually, not nearly enough.
But can you easily find a tenured track position?
Truthfully, no. You can find them, but not easily. According to the same report by the AFT, tenure has become increasingly rare. Forty years in the past, tenured or tenure-track positions belonged to 70% of academic employees. Now, 75% of academic employees are not eligible for tenure. And 47% are only employed part-time. Institutions rely on these underpaid positions to make up most of their teaching staff, leaving much fewer opportunities to gain tenure and the job security tenure allows. So competition for these types of positions has grown significantly.
How much do college professors make in relation to rising costs?
As tuition and fees continue to rise for students, and as institution executives continue to make more money, compensation for teaching faculty has gotten worse. Between the 2020-2021 and 2022-2023 school years, the average salaries for academic faculty rose by only 4%. But inflation rose too. According to the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U), average prices rose 6.5% in this time period. And when inflation gets taken into account, that 4% actually becomes a 2.4% decrease in average salaries.
Prior to this recent decrease, between the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 school years, average salaries for academic faculty had already decreased by 5%. This is the largest decrease in average salary during a one-year period since 1972, which is when the American Association of University Professors began tracking this data. And at the same time, average prices had already risen by 7%.
While institutions still have the opportunity to adjust faculty wages to meet inflation, so far, they’ve mostly dropped the ball.
Some additional factors to consider when asking about salary
You’ve asked, how much do college professors make? You’ve asked, how much do adjunct professors make? And we’ve gone over averages. But while averages can give you general salary expectations, several factors can affect the money professors bring home.
- Location. Which state and which city you live in can affect your income. But when you factor location into your job search, just remember to always factor in the local cost of living as well.
- Field. The field you specialize in and the subject you teach can greatly affect teaching salary. For example, a professor teaching law courses will likely earn more than a professor teaching humanities courses.
- Experience. Ample experience in your field and experience teaching can often affect the salary offered to you. Or you can often use your experience to negotiate a higher salary.
- Terminal degree. Which terminal degree you complete can affect your income. For example, professors who’ve earned a Ph.D. may earn more than those with a master’s.
- Relevant supplemental income. If you specialize in a certain field, you may have additional income from your research, publications, patents, presenting at conferences, etc.
So if you’re worried about salary, these factors may work in your favor. But they may also work against you. And if that’s the case, there’s a solution: simply plan to use your brilliance to win the Nobel Peace Prize and stack those winnings on top of your existing salary. This would make you a competitive candidate and give you better financial security. Perfect!
How much do college professors make? Final thoughts
In conclusion, a college professor salary is dependent on a number of factors. And how much do adjunct professors make? Well, that depends even more. There are many factors for you to consider as you take your next steps, including how to become a college professor, and where to earn your terminal degree. While this career path will undoubtedly challenge you, teaching at a university level can be a wonderfully rewarding experience. So if your daydreams always take place at the front of a classroom, don’t give up on making that your reality.
Mariya holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the Pratt Institute and is currently pursuing an MFA in writing at the University of California Davis. Mariya serves as a teaching assistant in the English department at UC Davis. She previously served as an associate editor at Carve Magazine for two years, where she managed 60 fiction writers. She is the winner of the 2015 Stony Brook Fiction Prize, and her short stories have been published in Mid-American Review, Cutbank, Sonora Review, New Orleans Review, and The Collagist, among other magazines.
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