November 2010 Issue • Volume 38 • Issue 8

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The Faculty Pay Gap Between
Private and Public Institutions

The difference in pay between public and private colleges and universities
is smaller in sociology than in other social sciences

Janene Scelza and Roberta Spalter-Roth, ASA Research and Development Department

Overall salary growth has slowed for everyone in recent years, but faculty at public institutions typically received smaller annual raises than at private institutions, according to findings from the National Faculty Salary Survey (NFSS), conducted by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. This widening gap may be the result of greater losses in revenue from state higher education budgets than the decline of gifts and income investment that private institutions receive, according to the faculty survey by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). NFSS reports that the salary gap between public and private institutions is most pronounced at doctoral-granting institutions, but reversed at baccalaureate-only institutions. However, salary increases were dismal for faculty at both public and private institution in AY 2009-10, with no increase and a 0.1% increase, respectively, since the prior year.

Some experts argue that the gap in faculty earnings at public and private institutions raises concern over the ability for public universities to effectively compete with private institutions in recruiting and retaining well-qualified candidates (Byrne 2008). Using NFSS data, which is collected by discipline, for AY 2002-03 and 2009-10 (the years for which we have this data available), the ASA research department explored whether this gap in salaries exists in sociology and other social sciences, and if so, to what extent?

The Pay Gap in Sociology


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As Table 1 illustrates, sociology departments are not immune to the gap in faculty pay at public and private institutions, although the gap is relatively small. Between AY 2002-03 and AY 2009-10, average sociology faculty salaries (not including instructors) increased at private institutions by 24 percent ($58,406 to $72,504 in current dollars) compared to a 22 percent increase at public institutions ($58,242 to $71,128). When examining changes in faculty salary by rank, the gap at the associate-level is smallest in AY 2002-2003 (public institutions’ salaries were higher by $166) and largest in AY 2009-10 (private institutions’ salaries were $1,859 higher at private institutions). Associate professors are the only rank that was higher in public institutions in AY 2002-2003, but higher at private institutions by AY 2009-10.

Comparing Other Social Sciences

The disparity in average annual sociology faculty salaries between public and private schools in AY 2002-03 and in 2009-10 appears relatively modest when compared to political science, anthropology, and economics. In AY 2002-03, political science faculty earned an average of $1,871 more at private institutions than at public institutions. By AY 2009-10, the difference in average pay was $3,421. In anthropology, the disparity was more substantial. In AY 2002-03, when sociology faculty salaries were a few hundred dollars higher at private institutions, the difference between salaries in anthropology private and public institutions was more than $4,000. Over time, this gap deepened and by AY 2009-10, anthropology faculty were paid, on average, $6,000 more at private institutions. Economics appears to be the anomaly. Although economics faculty earned more at private institutions in AY 2002-03, their salaries at public institutions increased at a faster rate compared to other social science disciplines (29.8 percent versus 23.9 percent at private institutions), resulting in higher earnings at public institutions by AY 2009-10. The greatest disparity in economics was at the rank of full professor (30.8 percent increase at public institutions compared to 17 percent at private institutions).

More research is needed to explain the differences across disciplines. logo_small


American Association of University Professors. 2010. " 2009-10 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession.".

Byrne, Richard. 2008. "Gap Persists Between Faculty Salaries at Public and Private Institutions." The Chronicle of Higher Education.

College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. 2010. "2009-10 National Faculty Salary Survey by Discipline and Rank in Four-Year College and Universities." Knoxville, TN: College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

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