How much does a US College Professor make?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

A professor giving instructions to a student.

How much does a US College Professor make?

In the vast landscape of academia, the question of how much US college professors make is more than mere curiosity. It’s a reflection of the value society places on education, the priorities of institutions, and the economic realities that shape the lives of those entrusted with molding the minds of the next generation.

As you delve into this intricate subject, you’ll uncover layers of complexity that reveal much about the American education system. From the influence of location and discipline to the disparities that persist across gender and race, the salary of a college professor is a multifaceted issue that invites thoughtful exploration.

Why is understanding a college professor’s salary important to you?

Understanding how much a college professor makes isn’t just about numbers; it’s about recognizing the worth of education and the professionals who dedicate their lives to it.

Whether you’re an aspiring academic, a concerned parent, or a policymaker, this knowledge offers insights into the priorities and challenges of the educational landscape. It helps you gauge the attractiveness of a career in academia, the investment required to attain such a position, and the societal value placed on education.

How does the salary of a professor reflect the education system?

The salary of a college professor is more than a personal income; it’s a mirror reflecting the values, priorities, and challenges of the education system. When you examine how much a college professor makes, you’re looking at the intersection of public policy, institutional goals, and societal expectations.

In a system that highly values STEM fields, for example, you might find higher salaries, reflecting a focus on technological advancement. Conversely, disparities in pay between full-time and adjunct faculty reveal underlying tensions and inequalities that challenge the ideals of accessible and quality education.

In essence, the earnings of a college professor make a statement about what society deems important, what it’s willing to invest in, and where it sees room for growth or reform.

What Does the Average Salary of a College Professor Look Like?

When considering how to put your professional experience and education to use in the form of a career instructing students, one of the teaching careers that you might want to look into is becoming a college professor.

Teaching at the postsecondary level involves a combination of real-world experience in your area of study with the ability to manage a classroom and deliver a curriculum, both of which are abilities that may be obtained through earning a teaching degree.

As a consequence of this, full-time college professors typically have some of the highest salaries of all teachers; in fact, many tenure-track professors make an annual income that is greater than $100,000.

The average wage college professors make in the United States is $146,922 per year. The salary range for the most in-demand occupations as college professors normally fall somewhere between $73,555 and $216,289 annually.

Did professors’ salaries remain the same?

Have professors’ salaries increased or decreased similarly? There has not been much of a change in the standard pay for college professors in the United States during the past decade.

The rise in average professor wages was just 2% for all professor ranks and across all types of institutions from the academic year 2020-2021 to the academic year 2021-2022.

However, when this change was accounted for in terms of inflation, it actually constituted a decline. This marked the second time that academics’ incomes had experienced a drop of this kind since the economy began to recover from the Great Recession.

Two students talking to a professor while in the classroom.

Before the year 2020, average annual salary increases for the preceding ten years averaged between 3% and 4%.

When compared with the increasing expenses of tuition and the increased pay for senior executives at universities, college professors make the same amount, which is an unexpected development.

In the past ten years, the cost of attending college has soared by around 46 percent, while the incomes of university presidents have skyrocketed beyond the abilities of most experts to follow their rise.

How do you become a college professor?

How does one get hired to teach at a university? Those who aspire to teach at a college level should start by earning a bachelor’s degree in the subject they wish to instruct. They are required to enroll in graduate school following the completion of their bachelor’s degree.

It is expected that college teachers have a master’s degree at the very least, and the majority of full-time professors at universities and colleges are obliged to have a Ph.D. degree. You should give some thought to applying for a teaching assistant post while you are still in graduate school in order to get a head start on gaining experience for a professor role.

a female student studying inside a library

After earning their master’s degree, many academics go on to teach either part-time or full-time at the undergraduate level while also pursuing their doctoral degrees.

How long does it take to become a college professor?

How many years of experience are required before one may become a college professor? Having completed at least eight years of higher education is normally required in order to work as a professor in a college or university setting.

In most colleges and universities, there are three primary ranks for faculty members: assistant, associate, and full. Full-time, entry-level teachers who have achieved a terminal degree are qualified to work as assistant professors.

Assistant professors are typically in the early stages of the tenure track. Full professors are the most senior level of tenured faculty, whereas associate professors are at the middle level of the academic hierarchy.

Female professor sitting on a classroom.

In addition to these three traditional ranks, there is a fourth category that is referred to as adjunct faculty.

According to research published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), adjunct professors, also known as contingent faculty members who are not on the tenure track, are having a difficult time making ends meet.

According to the findings of a report that questioned over 1,883 individuals working as adjunct professors at two-year and four-year institutions between May and August of 2020, it was discovered that one-quarter of adjunct teachers earned less than $25,000. This puts them below the poverty limit established by the federal government for a household of four.

What can professors do to increase pay?

How can college professors make their raises higher than usual? The following is a list of actions that can be taken to improve one’s compensation as a college professor:

Change institution type.

The range of possible salaries is extremely broad, reflecting the wide variety of possible employers. College professors who work in prestigious institutions such as colleges, universities, and professional schools earn, on average, a wage that is significantly higher than that of college professors who work in other sorts of schools, such as community colleges.

Conduct research.

Original research is something that college teachers who want to set themselves apart from their peers and enhance their compensation should think about doing if they are working in their respective fields.

a woman reading inside a library

Carrying out research and having the results published in academic publications can help you establish yourself as an authorized person, which can lead to the creation of new career prospects with greater salaries.

Consider the geographic location.

You may want to examine available opportunities in different towns or states to boost your compensation as a professor.

Salaries vary considerably depending on the physical location of the college or university, so you may want to consider moving to a new state or city.

Obtain experience.

College professors’ salaries tend to increase in direct proportion to the number of years they have spent working in the field.

When you have more experience under your belt, you will be in a stronger position to negotiate a higher starting wage for yourself.

What are the highest-paying fields for college professors?

Professors at colleges and universities are a distinguished group thanks to their advanced degrees. But there are academics in this already illustrious group who, because of the department in which they work, are eligible for generous salaries. Needless to say, these college professors make a respectable salary. Check out the following list below:

Law professors

Since lawyers make a decent living, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that those who train them also do well financially. Postsecondary law teachers have the greatest average compensation of any type of postsecondary instructor, with a national average of $129,950. This is by a significant margin the highest income of any postsecondary instructor.

It goes without saying that getting a job as a law professor is not an easy task. According to research conducted by the University of Chicago, a person’s typical career path includes graduating from law school, taking a job with a law review, and then working as a judicial clerk, ideally with the Supreme Court if the opportunity presents itself. Is that not the case?

After further consideration, perhaps law professors are deserving of all that money.

Health specialties teachers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teachers of health specializations have the second highest yearly pay on the list. This places them in the number two spot.

These professors do not instruct in biological sciences or nursing, but they do cover pretty much every other subject.

The fields of dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, and therapy are just a few of the subjects that fall under the purview of teachers who specialize in health care. These professionals, much like those who teach law, have typically “paid their dues” by toiling away in their chosen subject for a significant amount of time before entering the teaching profession.

In exchange, they receive returns of an annual income of $121,620 on average.

Economics teachers

This group of college professors makes a six-figure compensation in higher education. In 2019, they brought in an average income of $119,160, with those working in the state of New Hampshire making the highest wages in the sector, coming in at an average of $168,130.

Be much as it may, if you aspire to teach economics at the highest level, you should be prepared to confront severe competition.

A survey that was conducted at the University of Chicago in 2013 discovered that the top 15 Ph.D. programs in economics recruit the majority of its teaching staff from just six institutions. In point of fact, only Harvard and MIT accounted for 39 percent of the faculty’s educational backgrounds.

Is there a possibility that professors can earn $1 Million?

Is there a chance that a professor’s salary could reach one million dollars? There is a tiny but significant population of college professors whose annual salaries are over one million dollars, despite the fact that the majority of university professors make less than $250,000 annually.

This is typically due to the fact that these college professors make additional generating streams at their respective universities in addition to that of being a professor.

According to tax documents from 2019, Zev Rosenwaks of Cornell University made $8.8 million as a tenured clinical professor. These documents come from the year 2019. The income that Rosenwaks received was about eight times higher than the compensation that the university’s president received at the time.

A number of Cornell professors, including Rosenwaks, made millions of dollars in 2019, including Rosenwaks. Over $4 million was brought in by associate clinical professors Hey-Joo Kang and Steven Spandorfer, as well as assistant clinical professor Rony Elias, during that year.

There are a number of other famous universities, in addition to Cornell, that periodically provide salaries in the millions to its faculty members. In 2019, Lawrence G. Lenke, a tenured professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University, made $6.85 million in salary and benefits.

In the same year, David N. Silvers, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University and the director of the university’s dermatopathology laboratory, brought in a total of $4.37 million in salary and other compensation.

What are similar jobs to being a college professor?

What other types of work are comparable to those of a college professor? As you do a thorough survey for your future profession, here are some jobs that are comparable to college professorship:

Research Assistant

National average salary: $16.13 per hour 

The duties of a research assistant include the execution of experiments, as well as the collection, organization, and interpretation of data.

a female student working with a microscope

Editing papers, applying for grants, reviewing current literature, and performing other activities to keep research projects on track are some of the primary responsibilities of research assistants, even though the daily writing responsibilities of research assistants can vary depending on the field in which they are working.

Kindergarten teacher

National average salary: $41,021 per year 

A kindergarten teacher is someone who works in an elementary school and is responsible for instructing students at the kindergarten level.

They are responsible for a variety of fundamental responsibilities, including lesson design, execution, and evaluation, as well as patiently and imaginatively instructing students in subjects such as mathematics, science, language, and social studies.

Instructional Coordinator

National average salary: $63,740 per year

Instructional coordinators are responsible for overseeing the curricula and teaching standards of their respective schools.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

National average salary: $96,910 per year

Among the similar jobs mentioned in this article, Postsecondary Education Administrator is by far the closest when it comes to comparing how college professors make or earn.

Depending on the department that they serve, education administrators are responsible for overseeing student services, faculty research, or academics.


The exploration of how much a US college professor makes has unraveled a complex web of factors that go beyond mere numbers. It’s a subject that reflects the multifaceted nature of academia, the values of society, and the challenges that educators face in their pursuit of knowledge and excellence.

The salary of a college professor isn’t just a measure of personal worth; it’s a barometer of the health and priorities of the education system. As you’ve journeyed through this intricate landscape, you’ve seen how the question of what a college professor makes opens doors to deeper understanding and prompts critical thinking about the role of education in shaping the future.

How can this information guide your career choices or understanding of academia?

Understanding how much a college professor makes can be a pivotal guide in your career choices or your perception of academia. If you’re an aspiring educator, this information helps you navigate the path to a fulfilling career, balancing passion with practical considerations.

Knowing the variations in what a college professor makes across disciplines, institutions, and locations enables you to make informed decisions that align with your goals and values.

For those outside the profession, this insight into what a college professor makes sheds light on the complexities of the education system, fostering a more nuanced appreciation of the forces that shape learning and intellectual development in the United States.

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Yes, here at AdmissionSight, we would be delighted to be of assistance to you in accomplishing your objective of getting a solid education through admission to a reputable institution.

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