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December 13, 2007


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Doesn't surprise me at all. I went to a second-tier school that cost about the same as an Ivy (but with more financial aid for middle-class students). Walking through the parking lots, there were only two kinds of cars - junkers driven by students, and brand-new sports cars or SUVs, driven by the faculty and staff. I don't think I ever saw a tenured professor drive a car that was more than two years old.

High salaries are needed to entice professors, many of whom have their own student loans to pay. Especially in technical fields, the salaries need to have parity with what a brilliant PhD could get in industry.

I'm an Assistant Professor in the Business School of a private, research-oriented university. Our b-School would be rated at the bottom of the Top 20.

My 9-month salary is about $125,000 with another 2/9s available for summer support and a research account of about $7000. So, approximately $150,000 in total.

The typical package for a b-school assistant professor at a public teaching university would be about $100,000.

Remember these salaries need to compensate for the opportunity costs that we face. Most of us could easily find a better paying job in industry.

By contrast, professors in the humanities are very poorly paid; again reflecting opportunity costs. Assuming that a PhD can find a tenure-track job at all, a total package of less than $50,000 would not be unusual.

I'm not too surprised either. One reason I started teaching after finishing my MBA (and why we are trying to erase debt) is my interest in going back for a PhD to become a professor. The last report I saw was that the average "starting" salary for Business PhD's is in the upper 90k's.

That made sense to me when I realized that here in St. Louis there is more than a dozen schools that have undergraduate business programs, but only 3 that offer a PhD. Those 3 schools essentially have to feed all the others, so the demand is way out pacing the supply. And like Assistand Professor said, the pay in the private sector is very strong for someone with that degree, so they have to compete very hard for people.

Dont be surprised. These are individuals who have PHDs and do you know how long it takes to make 100K in some fields? I think that professors are, at times, grossly underpaid. Try being in school for 12 years and than tell me 40K starting salary is a lot (that is what my brother in law made as an first year associate in a public school with a health science background). Professors could make much more money in the field than in the classroom.

After going to a SEC engineering school, I knew that top professors are making 110k~150k. All of my professors also had contract jobs as well.
(Most were experts in their fields).
The Dean had a part-time gig, where he was charging $10,000/hr! He only got a couple of these "part-time" gigs but holy cow, you don't don't need many for that to add up. He was a boiler expert.
At least that's what he told us.
I never found one of his stories to be untrue, so I have to take his word for it.
$400,000~$600,000 is remarkable!

"$400,000 to $600,000, which includes salary and research support. "

Salary and research support, not just salary. It would be interesting to see what's included in "research support;" I would imagine it's a much larger share than what goes to the professor, though $250,000 salary a year is not unreasonable for an individual that's at the top of their field involved in cutting edge research.

Harvard just announced that that they would offer more aid to students with families in higher tax bracket.
They are able to do this because of the gains from their endowment.

Just offering an additional perspective on the increasing tuition debate.

I can believe those salaries for the ivys, top universities and top professors. But, if you teach at a mid-range or small school the salaries are much different--my spouse is getting out of academe because after 15 years in the sciences he is making less than 60k and working at least 60 hours per week; the teaching is just a small part of it--all the grading and committee work add up! A friend of ours left a tenured science associate professor position to go to law school--and now works shorter hours and earns more money as a lawyer. So, yeah, like anything else, the salaries are great for those at the top!

I have to say I can't stand these stories about Harvard. The truth is they raise tuition because they can. I've had conversations with faculty members about this and some will admit that the school really isn't doing enough on the tuition front. If they really cared about making a place affordable, they'd stop the massive construction efforts and subsidize tuition. I went to Harvard Law. I saw this up close and personal. It's the classic example of an institution that exists for the benefit of the faculty primarily.

And from my experience, what's growing is the budget for loans, not grants. Maybe things have changed.

One more point about the salaries--that is for full professors. There are often many tiers, the three standards being Assistant, Associate, and your full professors. The full professors are tenured, which means they spent at least five years at that school and were put through a review process. There are also visiting professors, who are (as you can tell by the name) only there for a short period of time. Those can either be the big names they pay through the nose for or the nobodies they hire to be lecture fodder. Some PhD programs subsidize a portion of their students though grants and assistantships, but depending on your choices you could be taking out a lot of loans. My roommate is taking out $30,000 in loans this year to get her PhD in a social science at a top 20 school--she couldn't get funding this year but "probably will get it next year, third year at the latest." This is, of course, if she passes Quals. Also keep in mind you want to go to school one tier up from where you'd like to teach--Ivy to teach at a Big Ten or the like, Big Ten etc. to teach at a lower state school...this will lead you someone being more likely to take the loans over the free ride if they want to be a professor and not go into the private industry.

Anyway, the point of all of that is that it is expensive to get a PhD in the first place (usually) and that the salary quoted is for people who have spent at least five years at that university, teaching and having been in a tenure-track position during those five years (they could have been at other universities before that or have not gotten a tenure track position right out of school--probably unlikely to happen at an Ivy given the competition for teaching there).

I would just like to point out that Harvard brags about their rejection rate, but never mentions the money they put in to letters to top students encouraging them to apply, only to reject them later. The numbers are inflated by Harvard, these students who apply have no chance but add to their 90% rejection percentage.

Colleges are inherently inefficient. They have no reason to spend their money wisely like a business. The money will always come to them. Be it the government, or student loans(actually the government again). They can continue to rack up their tuition, whine to the government that they have no other choice and encourage the government to give them more money, or allocate more funds to student loans.

Their money is going towards research, and the people who conduct it, it is not towards the students. They build up their research areas to brag about them to gain more students, who do not benefit from it, so they get more money to fund their research. A vicious cycle.

I work at a university, and have seen it first hand. Although I agree that PhD's do deserve good pay, the top people they hire are not because they are the best professors, they are hired because they are the best researchers who can bring in the money for the college.

Again - the students suffer.

I'm a Ph.D. student in political science at UCLA, and I can tell you that while the top professors here can earn $250,000 (or more at the Ivies!), most professors start out at $60,000 and end up topping out about 20 years into the job around $110,000 -- not too different from other people with advanced degrees, I'd say. There's also a shift in academia, especially in the humanities, toward adjunct, temporary, part-time lecturers who make about $40,000. Yikes.

Looking at what the top people earn is like looking at what CEOs earn.

"the going annual rate today for theoreticians of his caliber is $400,000 to $600,000, which includes salary and research support."

This figure, and the 1.5-2 million may seem high, but remember the "research support." This will likely include laboratory costs and even the salaries or fellowships of post-docs and phd candidates. For complicated research, this could be quite a few people.

Including research support in a professor's salary is like including the cost of a desktop in the salary of your average office worker. Research money is required for doing your job in most science and social science fields and is spend doing research for the university. It isn't income in the sense of compensation paid to a worker for labor.

Well if you keep up with the news you will have seen that Harvard has just cut its tuition drastically to help bring in more middle and lower income students. For middle-income families (incomes of $120k-$180k per year) the tuition will drop to only 10% of their incomes. And for low income families (less than $120k) the tuition will drop even further. This is a huge change and I am sure the other Ivies will do something similar soon as well.

I went to any Ivy but unfortunately they didn't have this system in place. It was expensive for us even after financial aid and scholarships but it has paid off handsomely. I'm in my late 20s and make mid-6 figures and it would have been next to impossible for me to have the job I have now if I didn't go to that school. Virtually everyone in my business went to top schools and the average starting salary out of undergrad is about $150,000 and it grows substantially from there. A degree from an elite school is something you carry with you for life and puts you in sort of a special club that many people who aren't part of don't even realize exists. But there's a reason the cream of the crop in business, law, and politics largely come from a small handful of the same schools.

I'd like to clarify the comment on staff spending. I am an employee of Princeton University and my perspective is that substantial raises only seem to be affecting faculty and higher-level administrators. That's why morale is so low among the "regular" staff. Our raises are based on arbitrary performance appraisals, the maximum amount for the past years for "exceptional performance" being around 3.25%. No COLA adjustment. I will also add it is impossible to find affordable housing anywhere within a 15-mile radius of the Princeton area. The Trustees (comprised of Princeton Alumni) along with the Priorities Committee have always been in this delusional state that they are paying current market rates for their mid- and lower-tier salaries. We often get the line that "we don't have the money to increase staff salaries" while the same staff witness the record level of money coming in from alumni in the annual giving campaigns to feed the bloated endowment, not to mention the unbelievable amount of $$$ spent on shiny new construction projects. Image is everything for Princeton. Everything.

Many of the staff are reluctant to express their disdain and don't talk because they know it will fall on deaf ears. The HR department is a useless and powerless organization that does nothing to support the interest of the day-to-day employees. We often joke that we shouldn't complain since it is an "honor and a privilege to work for Princeton University.” For those who think working at institutions of higher education is not anything like a corporate job, I’d like to add that many of the schools like Princeton are adopting the corporate model rather quickly. Of course, we’re now under corporate expectations without corporate pay.

My disdain for working at Princeton has fueled my desire to develop my own business. I've certainly learned a great deal from my experience with Princeton--on how NOT to do things. After 10 years of working in Princeton, I've had it with the Ivys. I'd recommend that even Ivy alum really think about directing their donations to those colleges in their surrounding communities. I believe this is money better spent.

After what I've seen as an insider, I know one thing for certain, I sure as hell won't send my kids to Princeton.

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