Professor salaries are starting to recover from cuts made during the recession, but a continuing reliance on part-time faculty threatens to erode the quality of instruction at the nation's colleges and universities, according to a new report from the American Association of University Professionals.
In Utah, pay at some public institutions lags behind similar schools, though benefits packages generally make them more competitive, the report found.
"Faculty salaries really have not kept pace for a very long time with similar professional salaries," said David Knowlton, president of the Utah chapter of the AAUP at Utah Valley University.
Low pay can affect the quality of education, he said, when graduates are drawn to more lucrative career paths or professors don't have the support they need to teach well.
Salaries range widely at the nine Utah institutions in the report (Brigham Young University wasn't included) from a median high of $84,700 at the University of Utah to a low of $49,600 at Salt Lake Community College. The report uses 2012-13 data from more than 1,100 colleges and universities.
One reason for the salary crunch is cuts made by state legislatures during the recession. Utah has cut more than 13 percent from higher education funding since 2009, even as enrollment ballooned.
"It does make it harder to recruit faculty; some positions could stay open for a longer period of time," said Michael Vaughan, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Weber State University.
Salaries there are in the bottom 20th percentile of the country or lower, as are those at Utah State University, Salt Lake Community College and Southern Utah University, according to the report. With benefits, though, those rankings generally rose into the 40th percentile.
There were signs of salary recovery in Utah this year as lawmakers agreed to fund benefit increases and allowed schools to use some state money for raises, said Brad Mortensen, vice president for university advancement at Weber State.
As institutions cope with cuts, more are relying on part-time faculty or teaching assistants 67 percent of the country's academic workforce is part-time or full-time non-tenured, according to the AAUP report.
The trend isn't as pronounced in Utah, where about 41 percent of the instructional faculty are adjunct professors or teaching assistants, according to the Utah System of Higher Education. The portion, though, has risen from 38 percent of the faculty in 2008 to 41 percent last year.
That's a disturbing trend for David Keller, a philosophy professor and former president of the AAUP at Utah Valley University. Part-time faculty are generally paid by the class and don't have the same benefits, allowances for preparation time or offices to meet with students, he said.
"Contingent faculty have to teach so many courses at different campuses to simply pay the bills that they are effectively barred from campus life," said Keller, a founding president of the Utah AAUP, in an email. "The quality of education for students is damaged."
At some schools, though, part-time faculty are part of the teaching mission, said Kimberly Henrie, assistant vice president of budget services and financial planning at SLCC.
"It's just how we do business to serve the number of students that come through," she said. Many part-time instructors have other jobs, and that can improve their teaching skills for students looking for professional training at SLCC, she said. "Community colleges rely heavily on adjunct instructors because of the [purpose] we serve."
Median salaries at Utah institutions
University of Utah: $84,700
Utah State University: $72,900
Westminster College: $72,600
Utah Valley University: $62,300
Weber State University: $61,600
Southern Utah University: $59,400
Dixie State University: $58,200
Snow College: $50,600
Salt Lake Community College: $49,600
Source: Report on faculty compensation and the economics of higher education by the American Association of University Professors. Brigham Young University is not included in the report.