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Professors Lament Low Pay and Bloated Athletic Budgets

Professors Lament Low Pay and Bloated Athletic Budgets

Photograph by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Every year, the American Association of University Professors, a professional association, puts forth a report on faculty salaries. They’re generally dense, dour affairs that argue that U.S. colleges and universities have lost their way—spending big on athletics and administrators, cheaping out on instructors.

This year’s report—titled “Losing Focus”—stays true to form. Higher education still “provides a transformative experience,” write authors John W. Curtis and Saranna Thornton. But colleges and universities are “changing in ways that detract from [their] potential to enhance the common good.”

Here are four ways Curtis and Thornton think higher education has gone bad (all charts are from the AAUP report):

Bad examples. The AAUP has been complaining about bloated administrator salaries for close to 25 years—long enough to have come up with counterarguments to the counterarguments. “Some commentators have argued that outsized and rapidly rising salaries paid to many presidents, especially, have only a trivial impact on institutional budgets,” Curtis and Thornton write. That may be true, but “the salaries paid to senior administrators are highly symbolic.”

Bad choices. In 1939, University of Chicago President Robert Maynard Hutchins decided athletics deserved a lesser role in collegiate life, according to Curtis and Thornton—who give the impression that the decision may represent the high point in academic leadership in the U.S. At any rate, Hutchins’ view of intercollegiate sports has long since fallen out of favor. From the 2003-04 school year to 2010-11, private four-year colleges increased the per-student spending on instruction by 5.1 percent. Over the same period, spending on athletics per athlete got a 28.9 percent boost.

You might be surprised to know which schools are leading the way on athletics spending. Median spending per student for Division I schools—which have the highest level of competition and allow for the most scholarships—increased 47 percent from 2003-04 to 2011-12. That jump was dwarfed by Division III schools without football teams. Median athletics spending per athlete at those schools jumped 112 percent, according to Curtis and Thornton, “as a mechanism to boost enrollments.”

Bad…minton? This one gets its own chart. It’s no surprise coaches in high-profile, revenue-generating sports (football and men’s basketball) have seen their salaries double in recent years. Tennis and golf coaches have also gotten rich paydays, while faculty salaries have remained flat.

Finally, some good news. OK, it’s not that good. On average, full-time faculty members who stayed in the same position during the 2013-14 school year got raises that outpaced the consumer price index. That marked the first time in five years that faculty salaries rose faster than the cost of living. “Lest we get overly excited,” the authors write, the real-money raises were so small as to “represent a continuation of the long period of stagnation in average full-time faculty salaries.”

Clark is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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