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Main article: College teachers

In the United States, the term professor refers to a group of educators at the tertiary level. In colloquial language, usage of the term may refer to any educator at the post-secondary level, yet a considerable percentage of post-secondary educators are hired as lecturers or instructors, not as professors. Additionally, the post-secondary teacher classifications includes teaching assistants who are most commonly graduate students.[1] In the U.S., professors commonly occupy the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor or full professor. Research and education are among the main tasks of professors with the time spent in research or teaching depending strongly on the type of institution. The publication of articles in conferences, journals, and books are essential to occupational advancement.[1] As of August 2007 teaching in tertiary educational institutions is one of the fastest growing occupations, topping the U.S. Department of Labor's list of "above average wages and high projected growth occupations," with a projected increase of 524,000 positions between 2004 and 2014.[2]


Most professors in the U.S. are male, liberal,[3][4][5] upper middle class,[6] and among the top 15% of wage earners. According to a study by Robert Lichter, a professor at George Mason University, "The vast majority of professors in the United States identify themselves as liberal, and registered Democrats commonly outnumber registered Republicans."[3] Despite the liberal leaning of most professors, political scientist Brett O'Bannon of DePauw University has pointed out that the liberal opinions of professors seem to have little if any effect on the political orientation of students.[7] In terms of education, the vast majority hold Doctorate degrees. Professors at community colleges may only have a Master's degree while those at four year institutions are commonly required to hold a doctorate degree.[1]

Tenure-track faculty ranks

Although the term "professor" is often used to refer to any college or university teacher, only a subset of college faculty are technically professors. These individuals (referred to as tenured/tenure-track faculty) typically begin their careers as assistant professors, with subsequent promotions to the ranks of associate professor and finally professor. College and university teachers that hold the rank of lecturer or instructor are not tenured/tenure-track faculty, and typically focus on teaching undergraduate courses, and are generally not involved in research, nor are they typically involved in department and university decision-making.

Assistant professor

The rank of assistant professor is typically bestowed upon an individual who has recently graduated from a doctoral program,[8] or has completed a postdoctoral fellowship. Assistant professor positions are generally not tenured, but are typically "tenure-track" positions, in that an assistant professor can become tenured after a probationary period of three to seven years. As of 2007, 23.1% of academics held the rank of assistant professor.[9]

Rates for achieving tenure vary, depending on the institutions and areas of study; in most places at least 50% of assistant professors will eventually become tenured and promoted to associate professors; however, this number can be as low as 10% in natural sciences departments of top universities or in non-Ph.D.-granting schools. In unusual circumstances, it is possible to receive tenure but to remain as an assistant professor, typically when tenure is awarded early.

Competition for assistant professor positions is rapidly growing; the number of Ph.D. graduates is rising, while the number of assistant professor openings remains roughly constant.[10] As a result, the U.S. Occupation Outlook Handbook notes that a significant proportion of any growth in academic professor jobs will be due to "part-time and non tenure-track positions."[11]

Associate professor

Upon successfully receiving tenure, an assistant professor is then promoted to the rank of associate professor. The mid-level position is usually awarded after a substantial record of scholarly accomplishment (such as the publication of one or more books, numerous research articles, receiving a large external research grant, successful teaching and service to the department[12]); however the specific requirements vary considerably between institutions and departments. As of 2007, 22.4% of academics hold the rank of associate professor.[9]

Alternatively, a person may be hired at the associate professor level without tenure (which is a typical practice at some universities, often done as a financial inducement to attract someone from outside the institution, but who might not yet meet all the qualifications for tenure). If an associate professor position is awarded to a non-tenured person, the position is usually tenure-track with an expectation that the person will soon qualify for tenure.

Finally, at some institutions, individuals are promoted to the rank of associate professor prior to receiving tenure. In these situations, the individual may eventually apply for tenure at that institution or, optionally, seek a tenured position elsewhere.

(Full) professor

Upon a sustained and distinguished track record of scholarly achievement within one's university and academic discipline, an associate professor may be promoted to Professor (sometimes referred to as "full professor"). In most traditional colleges and universities, this position is always tenured; however, this may not be the case in a for-profit private institution or certain church-related universities and colleges.

The rank of Professor is the highest of the standard academic ranks in the United States, and is held by 29.5% of U.S. academics.[9] Advancement past the rank of Professor typically involves administrative duties (e.g., department chair, dean, or provost) or selection for an honorary title or endowed chair.

The absence of a mandatory retirement age contributes to "graying" of this occupation. The median age of American full professors is currently around 55 years. Very few people attain this position before the age of 40. The annual salary of full professors averages around $100,000, although less so at non-doctoral institutions, and more so at private doctoral institutions (not including side income from grants and consulting, which can be substantial in some fields); in addition, institutions in major cities or high cost of living areas will pay higher salaries[1]. Full professors earn on average about 70% more than assistant professors in the same institution. However, particularly in scientific and technical fields, this is still considerably less than salaries of those with comparable training and experience working in industry positions.

In addition to increasing salary, each promotional step also tends to come with increased departmental or institutional responsibilities. At some institutions, these changes are offset by a reduced teaching load.

Special academic ranks (tenured)

Professor emeritus and emerita

Full professors who retire in good standing may be referred to as Professors Emeritus or Professors Emerita. This title is also given to retired professors who continue to teach and to be listed; they may also draw a very large percentage of their last salary as pension. The title may also be given to full professors who have left for another institution but are still working full time. The concept has in some places been expanded to include also tenured associate professors. In some systems and institutions the rank is bestowed on all professors who have retired in good standing, while at others it needs a special act or vote. Depending on local circumstances Emeritus Professors may retain their offices and/or other privileges in order to remain active in the academic community of an institution as a mentor or subject matter expert.

Distinguished (teaching/research) professor

These titles, often specific to one institution, generally are granted to the top few percent of the tenured faculty (and sometimes to under one percent, although at wealthy schools, such as Harvard Business School even close to half may hold such titles). Examples include M.I.T.'s Institute Professor, Stanford University and Duke University's James B. Duke Professor.

Named / endowed chair

A "named" or "endowed chair" is a full professor who is awarded a specific, endowed chair that has been sponsored by a fund, firm, person, etc. Named chairs are usually similar to the European model, in that they are a position rather than a career rank.

Other designations

Visiting professor

A professor visiting another college or university to teach for a limited time would be referred to as a "visiting professor"; this may be someone who is a professor elsewhere or a distinguished scholar or practitioner who is not. The term may also refer simply to terminal (usually 1 to 3 years) teaching appointments and/or post-doctorate research appointments (which are much like research internships). The professor in question could be a Distinguished Visiting Professor.

Where an institution promotes itself as having all of its courses taught by professors instead of graduate students or teaching assistants, such persons may be given the temporary designation of "Visiting Professor" or "Visiting Assistant Professor" to avoid invalidating this claim.

Lecturer / Instructor / Collegiate professor

Lecturers, Instructors, and Collegiate professors work full-time, teaching four or more courses per term, and teach as their primary purpose, but they can also serve on academic committees. Since these positions are non-tenure track, they often do not involve a publishing requirement, although many of these professors do publish, research, and consult. At a PhD-granting institution, the collegiate professor must have a PhD or a terminal Master's degree (ie, MFA, MBA, etc.) as opposed to a regular master's degree (ie, MA, MS, etc.).

Adjunct professor

See also: Docent

An adjunct is a professor who does not hold a permanent position at that particular academic institution. This may be someone with a job outside the academic institution teaching courses in a specialized field, or it may refer to persons hired to teach courses on a contractual basis (frequently renewable contracts). It is generally a part-time position with a teaching load below the minimum required to earn benefits (health care, life insurance, etc.), although the number of courses taught can vary from a single course to a full-time load (or even an overload).

An adjunct is generally not required to participate in the administrative responsibilities at the institution expected of other full-time professors, nor do they generally have research responsibilities. The pay for these positions is usually nominal, even though adjuncts typically hold a Ph.D., requiring most adjuncts to hold concurrent positions at several institutions or in industry. Due to the considerably lower salaries of adjunct professors, many universities in North America have reduced hiring of tenure-track faculty in favor of recruiting adjuncts on a contractual basis. Contingent faculty now make up more than half of all faculty positions in the United States.[13]

Adjuncts provide flexibility to the faculty, acting as additional teaching resources to be called up as necessary. However, their teaching load is variable: classes can be transferred from adjuncts to full-time professors, classes with low enrollment can be summarily canceled and the teaching schedule from one semester to the next can be unpredictable. Furthermore, if the university makes a good faith offer to an adjunct professor of teaching during the following semester depending on enrollment, the adjunct generally cannot file for unemployment during the break. In some cases, an adjunct may hold one of the standard ranks in another department, and be recognized with adjunct rank for making significant contributions to the department in question. Thus, e.g., one could be an "Associate Professor of Physics and Adjunct Professor of Chemistry."

Professor by courtesy / Affiliated professor

A professor who is primarily and originally associated with one academic department, but has become officially associated with a second department, institute, or program within the university and has assumed a professor's duty in that second department as well, could be called a "professor by courtesy." Example: "Joshua H. Alman is Professor of Law and Professor, by courtesy, of Genetics at Stanford University". Usually, the second courtesy appointment carries with it fewer responsibilities and fewer benefits than a single full appointment.

Research professor

A professor who does not take on all five of the classic duties of a professor, but instead focuses on research. At most universities, research professors are not eligible for tenure and must fund their salary entirely through research grants. In parallel with tenure-track faculty ranks, there are assistant and associate research professor positions.

Assistant or associate teaching professors

These types of professors focus on teaching and supervising teaching assistants.

Honorary professor

This is a title normally granted to those who have contributed significantly to the school and community (for example, by donation for furtherance of research and academic development), but may or may not have earned a Ph.D.


The overall median salary for all professors was $73,000, placing a slight majority of professors among the top 15% of earners age 25 or older.[14] Yet, their salaries remains considerably below that of some other comparable professions, such as lawyers (who earned a median of $102,000) and physicians (whose median earnings ranged from $137,000 to $322,000 depending on speciality).[15][16] According to the U.S. Department of Labor,

Salaries for full-time faculty averaged $73,207. By rank, the average was $98,974 for professors, $69,911 for associate professors, $58,662 for assistant professors, $42,609 for instructors, and $48,289 for lecturers. Faculty in 4-year institutions earn higher salaries, on average, than do those in 2-year schools. In 2006-07, faculty salaries averaged $84,249 in private independent institutions, $71,362 in public institutions, and $66,118 in religiously affiliated private colleges and universities.[17]

Salaries varied widely by field and rank ranging from $45,927 for an assistant professor in theology to $136,634 for a full professor in "Legal Professions and Studies."[18] Another study by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found the average salary for all faculty members, including instructors, to be $66,407, placing half of all faculty members in the top 15.3% of income earners above the age of 25. Median salaries were $54,000 for assistant professors, $64,000 for associate professors and $86,000 for full-professors 2005.[19] During the 2005-06 year, salaries for assistant professors ranged from $45,927 in theology to $81,005 in law. For associate professors salaries ranged from $56,943 in theology to $98,530 in law, while salaries among full professors ranged from $68,214 in theology to $136,634 in law.[18] Full professors at elite institutions commonly enjoy six figure incomes, such as $123,300 at UCLA or $148,500 at Stanford.[20] The CSU system, which is the largest system in the U.S. with over 11,000 faculty members, had an average full-time faculty salary of $74,000, scheduled to increase to $91,000 by 2011.[21]

Rank Lowest median[18] Highest median[18] Overall median[17] Common range[18] Common salary range in relation to labor force
Full-time, age 25+[22] All earners age 25+[23]
Assistant Professor $45,927 $81,005 $58,662 Low 50s - Low 60s 70th to 75th percentile 77th to 83rd percentile
Associate Professor $56,943 $98,530 $69,911 Low 60s - High 70s 75th to 86th percentile 83rd to 87th percentile
Full Professor $68,214 $136,634 $98,974 High 70s - Low 100s
Mid 100s at Elite Universities
86th to 91st percentile
96th percentile
87th to 91st percentile
97th percentile

See also

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  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 U.S. Department of Labor. (4 August, 2006). Occupational Outlook Handbook.. URL accessed on 2007-07-22.
  2. U.S. Department of Labor. (August, 2007). Spotlight on Statistics: Back to School.. URL accessed on 2007-10-11.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kurtz, H. (29 March, 2005). College Faculties A Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds. The Washington Post.. URL accessed on 2007-07-02.
  4. Shea, C. (12 October 2003). What liberal academia? The Boston Globe.. URL accessed on 2007-08-19.
  5. (2007). Gross, N., & Simmons, S., The Social and Political Views of American Professors. (PDF) URL accessed on 2008-07-25.
  6. Thompson, William; Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus, Boston, MA: Pearson. 0-205-41365-X.
  7. O'Bannon, B. R. (27 August, 2003). In Defense of the 'Liberal' Professor. Indianapolis Star.. URL accessed on 2007-07-02.
  8. Although, at community colleges or in fields for which the terminal degree is below a doctorate, a master's degree may suffice.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Almanac of Higher Education The Chronicle of Higher Education
  10. The Real Science Crisis: Bleak Prospects for Young Researchers The Chronicle of Higher Education
  11. Occupational Outlook Handbook
  12. Arizona State University Promotion Guidelines For example: "Promotion from assistant professor to associate professor will be granted if the faculty member has achieved excellence in scholarship and/or creative activity, instructional contributions, and service consistent with departmental criteria."
  13. The Future of the Contingent Faculty Movement
  14. US Census Bureau. (2006). Educational Attainment--People 25 Years Old and Over, by Total Money Earnings in 2005, Work Experience in 2005, Age, Race, Hispanic Origin, and Sex.. URL accessed on 2007-07-22.
  15. U.S. Department of Labor. (December 17, 2007). Lawyers: Earnings. Retrieved from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.. URL accessed on 2008-05-20.
  16. U.S. Department of Labor. (December 17, 2007). Phyisicans and Surgeons: Earnings. Retrieved from the Occupational Outlook Handbook.. URL accessed on 2008-05-20.
  17. 17.0 17.1 U.S. Department of Labor. (December 18, 2007). Teachers-Postsecondary: Earnings.. URL accessed on 2008-02-18.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 (2006). Faculty Median Salaries by Discipline and Rank (2005-06).. URL accessed on 2007-07-22.
  19. College and University Professional Association for Human Resources. (2005). National Faculty Salary Survey.. (PDF) URL accessed on 2007-08-13.
  20. Wallac, T. & Schevitz, T. (14 May, 2006). UC Compensation Debate: Comparing university pay scales no easy task. San Francisco Chronicle.. URL accessed on 2007-07-22.
  21. CSU Public Affairs Office. (3 April, 2007). CSU, Faculty Union Reach Tentative Agreement on Four-Year Contract.. URL accessed on 2007-09-25.
  22. US Census Bureau. (2006). Earning for Both Sexes, 25 Years and Over, Worked Full-Time, Year-Round, All Races.. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.
  23. US Census Bureau. (2006). Earning for Both Sexes, 25 Years and Over, All Races.. URL accessed on 2007-07-25.

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