Faculty salaries rank low compared with peer institutions

Jeff Peyton

A Governance Committee report examining faculty compensation (salary + benefits) last year found that, when measured against a comparison group of approximately twenty colleges, Lawrence ranked in the bottom quartile.

The study showed that, though Lawrence wasn’t strong in either category, it was relatively weaker in terms of benefits than of salary, especially in medical insurance. The study also demonstrated that the relative disadvantage applies to every level of professor—full, associate, and assistant. The study did not take cost of living expenses into account.

Then chair of the committee, Professor of Government Claudena Skran, explained that the comparison group was composed of colleges from all around the nation that Lawrence saw as its peer institutions, as well as schools that rank higher (‘aspirational institutions’) and lower than Lawrence. Because of the composition of the group, Skran had anticipated that Lawrence would rank somewhere in the middle.

Dean of Faculty Brian Ronsenberg in an interview with The Lawrentian, said that he was not surprised by the outcome of the study. Rosenberg explained that, though not all, many of the schools in the comparison group had larger endowments than Lawrence. In the Midwest, for example, Carleton and Macalaster have endowments three times the size of Lawrence’s (approximately 200 million), while Grinnells’ is five times larger. Also, explained Rosenberg, some schools give out less financial aid than Lawrence.

In light of the report, the Board of Trustees took steps to alleviate the disparity in relative compensation. In addition to paying a greater portion of faculty health insurance costs, salaries were increased a greater percentage in the 2000-2001 academic year than in past years.

Despite these increases, Rosenberg said that the issue of faculty compensation was not an easy one to solve. Lawrence, he pointed out, is not a profit-making institution, and the money that is not spent on faculty salaries is spent on other things, including financial aid, student programs, the library, and computers. Consequently, the school, in order to increase faculty compensation, would need to either make cuts elsewhere or raise more money, perhaps by increasing tuition. Raising tuition too quickly, however, has negative implications as well, as it threatens to deter students from attending Lawrence, or could even encourage student attrition.

The bottom line, however, is also clear. “If we expect to recruit and retain the best faculty it is important to compensate them at a commensurate level,” said Skran. Rosenberg echoed Skran’s sentiment, “if salaries become un-competitive, then [the school] can’t hire the kind of faculty [it] wants to hire or keep the kind of faculty [it] wants to keep.”

This is an especially valid concern in light of the increasing disparity shown in faculty salaries among the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. According to statistics printed annually by The Chronicle of Higher Education, as of 1991, Lawrence ranked sixth out of 13 schools in terms of average salary for an associated professor, which remains Lawrence’s rank in 2001. However, in that time, the gap between Lawrence and the top school has grown wider—in 1991, Lawrence associate professors averaged $4,300 less per year than the top paying ACM school, whereas in 2001, the difference is $9,000 per year.

Rosenberg explained that the increased spread was “no mystery” as the top paying schools in the ACM—Grinnell, Carlton, and Macalester—have significantly larger endowments than Lawrence. Because those schools have larger endowments, their endowments will grow at a faster pace than Lawrence’s. “Resource differences tend to get wider rather than smaller,” said Rosenberg. The gap in salaries between heavily endowed schools and less endowed schools is, therefore, one that is not likely to close.

Professor of government Minoo Adenwalla noted that he could understand Lawrence not being able to keep up with schools with larger endowments, but said, “if the university can raise these large sums of money for buildings, surely they can raise money to try to bring Lawrence faculty salaries up to a higher level…we’re very rich in bricks in mortar, but maybe not in terms of flesh and blood.”

Rosenberg responded that, though the point was well taken, the funding for buildings and for salaries comes from different sources. Buildings, which the university considers capital expenses, are paid for through fundraising and loan taking, whereas faculty salaries, which the university considers operational expenses, must come from tuition and interest earned on the endowment.

Rosenberg concluded his remarks noting the complexity of the problem and the university’s awareness of it. “During the last couple years [the administration] has indicated to trustees that salaries are a high priority and that we ran a risk if we didn’t address salaries as not being competitive,” said Rosenberg, “and I think they’ve been responsive to that.” Though it may be impossible to catch up with wealthier schools, the goal, said Rosenberg, “should be to try to do better with salaries.”

Information taken from The Chronicle of Higher Education

Information taken from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Median Salary of an Associate Professor among ACM colleges: 1991 and 2001

















Colorado College




Lake Forest








St. Olaf