It sounded alarming when retiring University of Wyoming Dean Oliver Walter warned that the university could “sink into second-class status” because of its faculty pay. He said that faculty salaries at UW are in the bottom 25th percentile nationally.
That certainly got attention from people who want the best for the state’s only four-year university. We prefer to be at the top, not the bottom, of all rankings.
As it turns out, UW actually is paying its faculty well compared to other public universities, particularly in our region. OK, Wyoming professors could be lured away by Harvard’s salaries at the top of the heap, paying full professors $198,400, compared with UW top professor pay of $105,600.
But let’s look at the university in another pool, as it compares with all other four-year public universities in the U.S. Instead of in the bottom 25 percent, UW is just under the top 25 percent. It is ranked 132 out of the 493 such institutions, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac of Higher Education 2012. Walter’s comparison was with all U.S. colleges, private and public.
Even more strikingly, Wyoming outpaces almost all of its neighboring public universities. Using the same almanac that produced the damning statistic cited by Walter, we find that no public university in Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, or Montana pays more than the University of Wyoming. In those four states, that’s 19 universities paying less than the amount paid at UW.
Highest pay for a full professor at a four-year public university in South Dakota is $85,400; in Montana it is $84,900; in North Dakota it is $100,100 and in Idaho it is $90,300. Remember, that’s in comparison to $105,600
In Washington State, two of the nine public universities pay more than UW; seven pay less. In Colorado, four of the 10 public universities pay more than Wyoming. One of Nebraska’s three public universities pays more.
What’s the total of universities in our surrounding states paying more than Wyoming? Of 42 public universities, seven pay more than Wyoming. That puts us in the top 18 percent of that peer group.
Many public universities struggled through the recession when their states made sharp cuts in funding. Wyoming was more fortunate, not only in its continued revenues through the recession but in the commitment of legislators and governors to UW.
In one measure of university funding done by the National Science Board, Wyoming was one of only seven states that did not cut funds from 2002 to 2010; in fact it increased funding per student 62 percent in that time period. “Wyoming led the nation in 2010 in funding per student at $16,986 for its single major public research university,” the report said.
Faculty salaries are one way of measuring financial commitment to a university; student-faculty ratios are another. Wyoming does well with its 14-1 ratio. It may be well above Harvard’s 7-1 ratio, but when compared to the 493 four-year public universities, only 22 other schools have better ratios than UW.
All of these figures don’t answer the question of how well our students are being educated at the University of Wyoming, nor do they measure outcomes. That would be a different story.
But in response to a speech that warned of UW possibly sinking into second class status, we say, in part, “Look at the money.”