Faculty Get Short End of Money Stick

“State must do better” paying university faculty, said one editorial. “We’ve go to do more,” said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum.

The recent Southern Regional Education Board release of education data for 16 southern states shows average full-time faculty salaries at Mississippi’s eight universities was $62,528 for the 2009-2010 academic year.

That was $10,922 below the 16-state average of $73,450. Arkansas paid the least, averaging $59,792. Louisiana and Tennessee paid $65,474 and $67,048, respectively. Alabama was highest of neighboring states at $71,764. Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware jumped the average up, paying from $80,650 to $93,548.

“It’s obviously a very difficult issue to deal with,” IHL Commissioner Hank Bounds told The Clarion-Ledger. “If you can’t keep or recruit quality faculty, you can’t be expected to recruit and retain the best students.”

Such data and arguments are not new. For decades Mississippi’s faculty salaries have lagged those in neighboring and other southern states.

Another facet of this discussion is not new, the raising of the issue as part of a strategy to increase state revenue for higher education. It is one of the two top arguments used to convince legislators to up appropriations and, occasionally, raise taxes. The other argument is to increase revenue to hold down tuition and keep college affordable.

These are not false arguments. Faculty salaries in Mississippi are low and faculty have not been getting many raises. Likewise, tuition is high and increasing rapidly.

But, there is more to the story. When it comes to spending money at universities, faculty salary increases and holding down tuition just aren’t top priorities. You see, the rhetoric says one thing, but the numbers show another.

From the 2000-2001 academic year to the 2008-2009 academic year, average faculty salaries at Mississippi’s universities increased under 20%. But, total revenue increased 45%. This surge in revenue was caused, in part, by a 60% increase in average tuition rates that pushed revenue from tuition and fees up 90%.

Where did that extra money go, since it didn’t go to faculty salaries?

Hard to say, because useful data is hard to find.

Faculty salary details are published by state and region. Administrator salaries, however, are not. IHL publishes lots of numbers in its annual “management report,” but senior management costs and trends are not shown. Rest assured, though, administrator salaries have risen significantly.

Much money has also gone to add non-faculty positions. From 2001 through 2010, faculty positions increased by 732 from 4,605 to 5,332. But, over the same period, universities increased non-faculty positions by 3,186 from 17,928 to 21,114.

Yes, faculty salaries need to go up. But, the issue may be more one of priority setting than increasing revenue (or taxes).

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