How Well Paid Are Christian College Faculty?

There are several reasons that my employer is currently going through something of a budget crisis; one that’s hard to complain about is that our president and board adopted a new faculty compensation plan that would raise salaries, particularly at the level of full professor. (Some years ago the problem was that we weren’t competitive at the assistant professor level, so the faculty decided to flatten the curve — too successfully, as it’s turned out.) It’s not entirely clear what will happen to that plan after the dust settles and we see who still has a job, but it did get me wondering just how well or badly Bethel compares on this count: both to fellow leading members of the evangelical Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) and to non-CCCU schools that we would tend to regard as peer institutions.

My method — which is full of all sorts of holes that I’ll try to point out — was to merge a couple of tools provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education:

AAUP logo• First, this past April the American Association of University Professors produced its annual survey of faculty salaries. There’s tons of useful data there, but to keep things simple, I just used the search tool created by the Chronicle: providing for each college participating in the survey the average 2012-2013 salary at each faculty rank, how that compares to the pool, a comparison of pay for men and women at the same rank in that institution, etc. There are obvious limitations to this survey: first, it includes only 1142 institutions; second, only full-time faculty are included, leaving out graduate students and the growing number of professors who are hired as adjuncts at significantly lower compensation.

Chronicle of Higher Education Logo• Second, I went back to my post last September on how CCCU members did in the Chronicle‘s attempt to rank schools by how often they show up when colleges and universities request comparison data from the Department of Education on their peers (or schools they aspire to resemble). I took the top ten CCCU schools in that ranking — leaving out Wheaton (which doesn’t include any fellow CCCU institutions in its request and has a huge, diverse set of comparables) and Gordon (which ranks highly, but doesn’t request peer/aspirant data itself). Then I not only gathered the AAUP survey data for each one, but for each school that it had identified as a peer or aspirant (excepting those that hadn’t taken part in the survey).

It’s not the least convoluted methodology in the world, but it does produce a set of potentially instructive comparisons that should be more than fair to the CCCU: I’m not looking at the consortium’s poorest members, but those that are most highly regarded outside it (and many lower-ranked CCCU members are not part of the AAUP survey anyway); and I’m comparing those elite institutions only to schools that they have already identified as comparable. (And by “they,” I mean… Well, whoever decides which other schools to request data for. Like I said, there are holes here…)

Without further ado, here’s how that group of ten compares on average faculty salary (across the assistant/associate/full levels) to the schools it identifies as peers or aspirants (all those schools, plus the CCCU schools it pegs itself against):

 

Average Salary for Assistant

Average Salary for Associate

Average Salary for Full

vs. Peers/
Aspirants

Biola

$65,800

$77,500

$94,500

+6.5% higher

Bethel (MN)

$56,500

$67,100

$77,300

+1.0%

Messiah

$58,100

$67,600

$83,300

+0.3%

Calvin

$60,000

$68,300

$78,700

-3.4% lower

Whitworth

$53,800

$65,100

$83,300

-4.3%

Abilene Christian

$57,900

$67,800

$81,600

-9.0%

Seattle Pacific

$61,500

$71,800

$87,000

-11.4%

Azusa Pacific

$62,500

$69,200

$85,300

-12.5%

Westmont

$64,600

$74,200

$91,900

-14.5%

Taylor

$47,000

$54,400

$64,000

-15.9%

Benson Great Hall at Bethel University
Benson Great Hall – Bethel University

Now, it’s already evident that there are problems. First, a school’s choice of comparables clearly makes a difference. Bethel has lower average salaries than all but two of the other schools; in fact, its average salary is 0.8% lower than the CCCU schools it compares itself against (which includes almost all the others on this list). But because it includes even lower-paying Minnesota schools in its peer group (e.g., Concordia College-Moorhead, Hamline University, Northwestern College, St. Catherine University), it seems more generous than, say, Westmont, which has much higher salaries but includes most of the elite Claremont colleges in its peer group.

And, of course, Westmont is located in Santa Barbara, California, which has a drastically higher cost of living than suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. Lower still are Spokane, Washington and Upland, Indiana, so the faculty compensations at Whitworth and Taylor, respectively, might not seem so feeble if we adjusted for cost of living.

So let’s do that, using the 2010 cost of living index (COLI) for the metropolitan statistical area in which each school (again, not just these ten, but those they identified as peers or aspirants) is situated — or, the closest to it, since schools like Taylor and Messiah aren’t in MSAs and the list I got from the Census Bureau isn’t exhaustive. (Salary adjusted to equivalent with COLI of 100.)

 

Adjusted Avg. Salary (Assistant)

Adjusted Avg. Salary (Associate)

Adjusted Avg. Salary (Full)

vs. Peers/
Aspirants

Abilene Christian

$62,100

$72,700

$87,600

+12.1%

Calvin

$66,200

$75,300

$86,800

+9.3%

Messiah

$59,400

$69,100

$85,200

+4.5%

Whitworth

$57,300

$69,300

$88,700

+4.4%

Bethel (MN)

$51,400

$61,000

$70,300

-5.5%

Taylor

$50,400

$58,300

$68,600

-8.0%

Westmont

$47,400

$54,400

$67,400

-16.8%

Biola

$48,240

$56,900

$69,300

-18.3%

Seattle Pacific

$50,700

$59,100

$71,700

-19.4%

Azusa Pacific

$45,800

$50,700

$62,500

-22.3%

As Biggie once said, “Goin’ back to Cali / strictly for the weather… If I got to choose a coast / I got to choose the East.” With the LA metro area boasting a cost of living more than 35% higher than the national average, those seemingly high salaries for Azusa, Biola, and Westmont get eaten up fast. (Seattle’s not much better, with a 2010 COLI of over 121.) Whereas if Abilene, Grand Rapids, Spokane, or rural Pennsylvania is more your style…

Jacob's Dream at ACU
Statue of Jacob’s Dream at Abilene Christian University – Wikimedia

Now, this doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. It’s just salary, not benefits — e.g., mortgage/housing assistance programs in especially expensive areas don’t show up here. And some people would pay a premium to have a view of the Pacific, or to not live in flyover country.

In any case, while the adjusted comparison does make a select number of CCCU schools more competitive in what they can offer their professors, it also makes it evident that even the best of the evangelical college set can struggle to keep up with their self-defined peers. Here I’d highly recommend Rondall Reynoso’s reflection on how lower salaries are sometimes rationalized for Christian college professors. (“Most faith-based schools rightly view their professors as performing a ministry. I think that is how most professors view their jobs as well. However, many schools use this a as a [sic] justification to pay professors less than they are worth.”)

One final comparison, however, shines a slightly better light on Christian colleges: compared to the non-CCCU institutions against which they peg themselves, they generally do a better job of paying women as well as men, or better. From the AAUP data for average female salary divided by average male salary: (leaving out Taylor, which doesn’t request data on any non-CCCU schools, and Biola, which only does so for two such institutions)

School vs. Its Non-CCCU Peers/Aspirants
on Female/Male Salary Ratio

Assistant

Associate

Full

Bethel (MN)

+9% higher

+6% higher

+6% higher

Azusa Pacific

+7%

+3%

+7%

Calvin

+4%

+4%

+3%

Messiah

+3%

+2%

+5%

Seattle Pacific

+2%

+3%

+3%

Whitworth

-2% lower

+6%

+1%

Westmont

+3%

+5%

-5%

Abilene Christian

-6%

-10%

+1%


2 thoughts on “How Well Paid Are Christian College Faculty?

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