Undergraduates who major in the liberal arts face tougher job prospects than undergraduates who study business and economics. So it goes among those on the academic job market. Because the for-profit sector may lure them away, professors of law, economics, business and engineering tend to earn more than professors who have fewer options in the private sector, such as English professors. According to College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, full professors of engineering earned an average salary of $112,000 in 2010. Their colleagues in the English Department earned $79,000. Because there is significant variation according to academic rank, region and size of the university, English professors at large, prestigious schools may earn more than engineering professors at small schools.
Professors are typically paid according to academic ranks. Full professors sit at the top of the academic hierarchy and earned an average of $109,000 in 2010. Associate professors typically earned about $76,000. Assistant professors earned $64,000. Instructors earned an average of $47,000. Because this data aggregates salaries for all fields, it is likely that professors in high-demand fields earn more than professors in fields with less obvious applications in the for-profit world.
Highs and Lows
Despite the use of ranks to differentiate pay, professors of law, engineering and business earn more, on average, than similarly ranked colleagues. These professors top pay scales for all ranks. According to CUPA-HR, an assistant professor of law earned an average of $83,000, rising to $101,000 as she earned the rank of associate and $134,000 as a full professor. Assistant professors of history earned an average of $52,000 and $62,000 as associate professors. The lowest-paid full professors tended to be those of the visual and performing arts, who earned and average of $79,000. Overall, law, engineering and business professors topped the pay scale for each rank. English, history and arts professors were typically at the bottom of the scale. Professors of fitness and leisure studies also ranked low on pay scales.
Professors whose institutions offered higher-level graduate degrees earned more than those who did not. Full professors at universities offering doctoral degrees earned an average of $125,000 and $91,000 at universities whose terminal degree was a master's. Professors at schools offering baccalaureate degrees averaged $87,000. Assistant professors at these doctoral, masters and baccalaureate institutions earned $71,000, $60,000 and $55,000, respectively.
Geography also played a role in pay scales. In 2010, full professors at universities offering doctorates earned an average of $146,000 in New England, according to AAUP. Their colleagues in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky earned an average of $108,000. Assistant professors in New England earned an average of $80,000 at doctoral universities, while their colleagues in the Central Southern States earned $63,000.