Higher Ed Salaries According to Forbes: Or, a Lesson in How Averages Depend on What One Is Averaging

Forbes has just published an article by Kathryn Dill titled “The Ten Best- and Worst-Paying Education Jobs.”

Here is the explanation of the methodology: “To determine the Best- And Worst-Paying Education Jobs, Forbes consulted the most recent Occupational Employment and Wages data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which reflects May 2014 salary and employment data, and focused on Education, Training, and Library Occupations, plus education-related jobs in several other categories as well.” The “averages” are “means.”

According to the article, eight of the ten highest paying jobs are faculty positions. The other two are K-12 administrators and postsecondary administrators.

But, get this, college and university administrators rank only sixth on the list. Dill reports that the average salary for the 131,070 higher-ed administrators included in the survey is only $101,910.

Dill does acknowledge that the salaries can vary considerably from state to state.

But what she does not acknowledge is that the categories are simply not comparable. Almost all of the faculty categories are in disciplines that exist largely, if not exclusively, at the university level–and most commonly within the even narrower category of research institutions: law, medicine, economics, engineering, agriculture, and atmospheric, earth, marine, and space sciences. The one exception is health sciences, but those faculty are among the best-paid at every level.

In contrast, the category for postsecondary administrators clearly includes those at the full range of postsecondary institutions, including community and technical colleges and small, private, non-profit institutions.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the comparison of salary averages would be meaningful only if the sampling across widely varied types of institutions were much more consistent than it appears to be here.

In most surveys of salaries within institutions or specific types of institutions, the only faculty whose salaries rank with administrators’ either are in medicine, law, business, or engineering, or are very senior and accomplished faculty in other disciplines.

By the way, notice that although business faculty are among the best-paid faculty at most universities, they did not make it onto the Forbes list, and the reason is that there are many business-related programs at the associates-degree level.

Finally, the BLS averaging also includes only full-time positions. So, given that more than half of all faculty are now part-time, this sort of averaging presents a very incomplete picture of where revenues are being allocated in higher education, at all levels.

But, of course, this article implicitly reinforces the continuing Far Right talking point that faculty compensation, and not escalating administrative bloat or the dramatic reductions in the state support for public colleges and universities, is the main reason why tuition and student debt have so dramatically increased.

Kathryn Dill’s complete article is available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathryndill/2015/06/04/the-10-best-and-worst-paying-education-jobs/


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