How Many Students Should You Be Paid?

I was talking to a friend last year and, as normal, we were complaining about our professors and classes. Being enterprising individuals, we realized we could look up their salaries and so we did.

Since every public state college employs professors that are technically state employees, all of their salary details are available online. We looked up the salary details for our Biomedical Engineering professors at Virginia Commonwealth University. What we discovered was disconcerting.

The specific professor we were talking about made $231,637 every year. This monetary amount doesn’t even take into account fellowships, endowed chairs, grants, stipends, or bonuses. That’s nearly a quarter of a million dollars. The two classes this professor teaches are lackluster affairs with very little instruction and a devil-may-care seat-of-your-pants teaching style.

So I began thinking: what if we paid professors directly in student tuition? AKA what if professors were paid on the basis of the average tuition of a student.

Doing a quick search, I discovered that the average in-state tuition at VCU is $26,872. Without talking about the rising cost of tuition, or the financial aid given to students, this money is directly tied to how much a university can pay faculty members. This means that this specific professor would have to personally help 9 students to succeed each year in order to justify their tuition cost.

If you take into account that college exists to better prepare students for the workforce, that means that this professor should be getting 9 students the skills they need to be employed each year. That means this professor should be constantly available for those 9 students and be personally involved in the success of those students. They should be a mentor and guide to those 9 to ensure their success after college.

This professor would be paid 9 students. Another professor that is commonly complained about would be paid in 8 students. Going down the list, the amount that professors are paid is vastly disproportionate to the number of students that take their classes. In addition, there is a distinct separation between their salaries and the quality of support received by the students based on the tuition paid.

This isn’t a trash piece. I graduated VCU last year and I am very happy with the education I got in some of my classes. Certain professors in my department are making fully 1/3 of the salary of “tenured” professors, and teaching excellent classes that far exceeded my expectations. It felt like the professors who only made $65,000 or less each year were personally involved with the success of students and actually benefited 3 students as their salary indicates.

The academic system is bloated at the top. The payroll for administrators who aren’t interfacing with students shows in the distribution of salary for a given university. Our second-most paid university employee at VCU is a basketball coach followed by deans, administrators and department chairs. None of these people actually are paid to teach classes.

A university is a place for higher learning and is supposed to encourage the success of students. I believe that if we pay faculty members directly in the number of student’s tuition, it may lead to more responsibility in being directly involved with the success of students. In addition, universities should consider de-bloating their administration payroll and opting for a system in which a more level pay will enable each employee to directly bring about the success of a few students. For a college that employs over 5,000 faculty members, this would be an incredible way to show commitment to the true heart of a university: the students.

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