A newly released survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that the median salary for higher education professionals rose 2.1% in the 2013-2014 school year — which isn't really that much higher than the median of 2% the previous year.
But how do the median salaries for specific types of positions in higher education stack up against jobs in the non-academic world? It depends, of course, on what the comparisons are.
CUPA-HR's survey was based on the salaries of 186,668 positions in public and private institutions nationwide. At the top of its median salaries, not including coaches, was staff physician, at $142,106.
That’s well below the mean income for physicians overall. The 2013 annual income averages for physicians ranged from infectious disease specialists at $170,000 to orthopedics doctors at $405,000, according to Medscape.com.
Professors make a bit less. CUPA-HR reported the highest average pay going to those in legal professions, with an average of $112,088 at public colleges and $123,541 at private institutions. Professors in history, English, and visual and performing arts earn the least at public colleges, while those in communications technologies and support services; theology and religion; and parks, recreation, leisure, and fitness studies bring home the lowest salaries at private institutions.
Research faculty take home even less. The CUPA-HR survey showed that among research professionals, a principal research scholar in physical sciences made $99,359, compared to $86,743 for the same position in social sciences, $88,360 in medical sciences, and $70,283 in life sciences.
Their assistants don't fare as well at all, rounding out the bottom of the mean salary range for research professionals. Their pay ranges from $39,249 in life sciences to $43,517 in the physical sciences. From the PayScale averages, one comparable salary to the research assistant positions outside of academia is that of the office manager, at $41,977. The lowest-paid position in the survey was student residence hall manager, with room and board included, at $31,147.
As for college administrators, the most recent national estimates available from the U.S. Department of Labor place their average pay at $100,600 for 2013, with a mean salary of $87,410. The labor department breakdown shows that the mean pay for administrators at colleges, universities, and professional schools was $105,000, compared to $87,000 at junior colleges.
In an e-mail to the Chronicle of Higher Education regarding the data, CUPA-HR President and CEO Andy Brantley wrote, "As state economies continue to improve, it is most definitely time for state legislatures to allocate adequate salary-increase funds to acknowledge the great work of faculty and staff."
He also noted that the best faculty and staff are becoming more mobile as a result of those economic improvements, so retention would be dependent upon being able to offer competitive salaries.
CUPA-HR's next highest paid positions beyond staff physician were staff attorney at $112,972, veterinarian at $108,462, and pharmacist at $102,105.
A campus' senior technology licensing officer might take home $99,876, compared to Moz's reported median salary for engineers in the IT professionals sector: $99,400. Some other comparable salary averages would be user experience professionals at $83,958; $74,727 for e-commerce pros; $74,375 for web analytics positions; and $73,034 for marketing positions. Payscale's median salary for software engineers is $77,895, while mechanical engineers bring in $66,773.
For the dreamers in academia planning to make a break for corporate riches, there is the median of the chief executives of 500 companies tracked by Standard & Poor’s. The CEOs made an average of $10.5 million in 2013, including salary, bonus, incentive awards, perks, and gains from vested shares and exercised stock options, according to USA Today. That was up 13% from the previous year.
Ultimately, most employees of higher education institutions don't choose their professions for the money. From the physicians to the student residence hall manages, it's a safe bet that many people who took their job talents off campus would find the world outside of academia much more lucrative. But to be on the safe side, to cover their retirement years, maybe they should teach their children to love orthopedics.