Expert Commentary

White, male faculty earn higher salaries than women, minorities at public universities

A new study finds that black and Hispanic faculty earn lower wages than white faculty. But the wage gap between male and female faculty is even larger.


Black and Hispanic faculty earn lower salaries than their white peers at American public universities. But the wage gap between men and women is even larger, a new study finds.

The issue: Amid growing tensions around issues of race on college campuses, students have banded together to demand greater faculty diversity. In 2015, the Legion of Black Collegians issued a list of demands to the University of Missouri’s administration that included more black faculty and staff. A similar demand came from University of Virginia students in 2017. Meanwhile, Stanford University students launched the Who’s Teaching Us? campaign to push for greater racial, ethnic and gender diversity, arguing that “students of marginalized identities need teachers who reflect their own experiences and teach their histories.”

The majority of college professors nationwide are white men, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Higher education officials agree on the need for more teachers of color, especially as student populations grow more diverse. But administrators have struggled to make progress, especially in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

A study worth reading: “Representation and Salary Gaps by Race-Ethnicity and Gender at Selective Public Universities,” published in Educational Researcher, 2017.

Study summary: Diyi Li and Cory Koedel of the University of Missouri examine faculty demographics and wages at 40 selective public universities during the 2015-16 academic year. They manually collected data from faculty rosters in six departments: biology, chemistry, economics, English, sociology and educational leadership and policy. Li and Koedel also obtained salary data from government agencies in each state. To compare each faculty member’s productivity level, the researchers created standardized measures of productivity based on factors such as the number of times a faculty member’s research had been published and the number of times it was cited.

In total, 4,047 faculty members were included in the study, 79 percent of whom were white and 65 percent of whom were male. The mean annual salary was $120,194.70.

Some key findings:

  • While white people make up 63.7 percent of the U.S. population, 83.3 percent of biology faculty and 81.7 percent of chemistry faculty were white in 2015-16. Whites were overrepresented in all six departments included in the study.
  • Black and Hispanic faculty were most likely to work in education departments and much less likely to work in science and math fields. More than 15 percent of faculty in the education leadership and policy department were black, compared to 0.7 percent of biology faculty. Hispanics comprised almost 8 percent of faculty working in education leadership and policy compared to 2.5 percent in chemistry.
  • Women were much more likely to work in the education and English departments than in chemistry and economics. For example, 48.7 percent of English faculty were female compared to 19.7 percent in economics.
  • Black and Hispanic faculty earned lower salaries, on average, compared to white faculty — approximately $10,000 to $15,000 less per year. But the gender wage gap was larger. Women earned more than $23,000 less than men.
  • Wage gaps were largely due to three factors: amount of work experience, research productivity and field of expertise.
  • Public universities’ faculty may become more diverse in coming years. The assistant professors included in this study — many of whom are working to become full professors — were less likely to be white, more likely to be Asian and Hispanic, and less likely to be male than the full professors included. Younger faculty were more diverse than their older counterparts.

Other resources:

  • The National Center for Education Statistics tracks a variety of demographic data in higher education. In 2013, 27 percent of full-time faculty at public and private colleges and universities were not white.
  • Each year, the American Association of University Professors issues the “Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession,” which includes details on salaries at public and private institutions. Professors at public universities that primarily award bachelor’s degrees earned $87,751, on average, in 2015-16, according to the report.
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education has created a searchable database of presidential compensation information going back to 2009-10. In 2015-16, the president of Wilmington University, a private institution in Delaware, earned the largest compensation package of all public and private college presidents nationwide — a total of $5.4 million.

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