A recent study published in The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that full professors at Williams receive the third highest salary among all liberal arts colleges in the country. Full professors at Williams receive, on average, $93,700.
Associate professors earn an average of $65,100, while the average assistant professor’s salary is $53,000. Williams trails only Wellesley College and Swarthmore College, according to the Chronicle’s findings.
Provost Catharine Hill explained that the College aims for the salary of faculty members to be at least equal to a group of comparable institutions, composed primarily of other top liberal arts institutions. She said, “The idea is that we want to have salaries that are competitive with which we can compete for the kind of faculty that we want.”
Although Williams was ranked number three in the report, Hill pointed out that the other institutions were not far behind. Also, she cautioned since the study did not reveal the age distribution of each group, the numbers do not tell the whole story.
Hill noted that older faculties on average have more experience and therefore command higher salaries. “I think we’re right in the ballpark of the top schools whether we’re third or fifth or first. It doesn’t mean much because it’s an average,” she said.
The Chronicle study also reported that top salaries at universities were roughly $25,000 more a year than those offered by the liberal arts schools. Hill believes this might be due partially to great discrepancies in university salaries, where “a few superstars are getting paid extremely high salaries that then bulk up the average.”
While Williams has a more tightly compressed salary structure, there is some variance. Professors’ salaries are mainly based upon experience and judgements of merit.
Particular fields, such as economics and computer science, also get a premium over other departments to compensate for the more favorable market conditions.
Jon Bakija, assistant professor of economics, believes part of the reason so many people are leaving the economics department is because the salary is lower than what economists could get elsewhere. In order to come to Williams, he turned down several offers, each paying much more. “I’m kind of an exception being willing to take a much lower salary to come here,” he said.
The fact that Williams did offer a higher salary than most liberal arts schools eased the choice somewhat. He said, “I think the choice would have been harder if it was between a big state university and a liberal arts college that paid a lot less.” He said the higher salaries were necessary, “or else they’re not going to have an economics department or a computer science department.”
The future is mixed for academe. In 1999, the nation’s faculty members earned an average pay raise of 3.7 percent this academic year, surpassing the inflation rate of 2.7 percent. Despite this, the pay gap between professors and other highly educated professionals continues to widen.
However, Hill thinks salaries will continue to go up. “I think it’s going to move a little bit from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market for faculty,” she said. “[I]t’s going to be more competitive for Williams as an institution to hire and retain the kind of faculty that it wants.”
She pointed to variety of things that are working in that direction. A strong economy plays several roles. It increases demand for skilled workers and higher education will have to keep up with fewer people choosing this direction.
A strong economy also results in states having more resources and thus putting more money into higher education. The state systems are hiring and paying salaries that are more competitive, which puts pressure on the market in which Williams competes to obtain faculty.
Furthermore shifting demographics are increasing college enrollments. The reverberation of the baby boom means more students are reaching college age and attending college. Though Williams will not increase their enrollment to meet this demand, other places will, and those other places will generate a greater demand for faculty.
Hill said this high demand for faculty will affect Williams at both at the entry level, where the College is looking for new assistant professors, and at higher levels where Hill notices increased movement.
“Normally, people would come as assistant professors, hope to get tenure, and if they got tenure, stay on until they retired. Now I see more mobility at different levels,” she said.
Despite the importance of salary, there are other considerations. Bakija said, “It’s still going to a lot less than you can get at other types of jobs but the trade-off is you get a lot of benefits from this job. You get something which is hopefully very intellectually stimulating to you.”