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Financial strength: Area colleges aim to keep faculty pay competitive

FARGO -- Professors at North Dakota State University hope the state's strong financial position will help their salaries catch up and become more competitive.

Meanwhile, faculty leaders at Minnesota State University Moorhead and Minnesota community colleges fear that cuts to the higher education budget will put them further behind.

Officials on both sides of the river recognize competitive faculty pay helps attract and retain highly qualified teachers.

Bill Goetz, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, said pay has become more competitive and retention is improving as a result of salary increases from the past two legislative sessions.

"The bottom line is we're making headway," Goetz said.

At NDSU, the average salary for faculty at the instructor and assistant professor levels was comparable to what other public doctoral institutions were paying nationally in 2010, according to the American Association of University Professors.

However, as faculty at NDSU advance, their salaries do not keep pace with what competing universities pay, figures show.

The average full professor at NDSU earned $96,300 in 2010, while similar schools nationally paid $118,054, the AAUP survey said.

Students benefit from having professors who have national and international reputations in their fields, said Gary Totten, president of the NDSU Faculty Senate.

"We have top-notch faculty and we want to keep them," Totten said.

Taxpayers also benefit when universities attract talent that leads to economic development, such as the success of NDSU's Research and Technology Park, Totten said.

"As we attract top researchers to campus, that is an economic boon to the community and to the state," Totten said.

North Dakota is positioned to attract top faculty because the state is able to invest in higher education while other states are making cuts, Goetz said.

No longer first choice

At MSUM, where faculty salaries have been frozen since 2008, pay is falling further behind, said Ted Gracyk, president of the campus faculty association.

"We are not most people's first choice anymore," Gracyk said.

Similar to NDSU, MSUM salaries are more competitive for new faculty hires, but are less so as faculty advance, according to the AAUP survey.

The statewide faculty union is negotiating the contract for MSUM and the other state universities.

"To bring us up to anywhere near national norms again would require significant raises, and it's difficult to see how in the current budget that was just passed that would be possible," Gracyk said.

Faculty salaries for Minnesota community colleges have been eroding as a result of three years with no raises, said Greg Mulcahy, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty, the union that represents the two-year colleges.

"How long this erosion is going to continue, we don't know," Mulcahy said. "We're certainly not happy about it."

As a result, faculty are working longer before retiring and fewer young people are entering the profession, Mulcahy said.

"I think what it tends to do is leave you to have an aging faculty," he said. "It generally discourages people from entering education at just about any level."

The union, which represents Minnesota State Community and Technical College, is negotiating a new contract now, but Mulcahy said he couldn't speculate on what the result may be.

"Recent history is not encouraging," he said.

The average instructor at MSCTC earned $59,300 in 2010, according to the AAUP.

When compared to the national average of $57,603, that appears to be competitive. But when compared to community colleges that have faculty ranks -- professor, associate professor and assistant professor -- the MSCTC salaries are below average, according to the AAUP data.

Concordia College salaries, which averaged from $76,600 for a professor to $44,200 for an instructor, are equal to or slightly higher than the average salaries for private colleges with religious affiliations, according to AAUP data.

However, when compared to private independent colleges that grant bachelor's degrees, Concordia's salaries are below average.

Concordia Provost Mark Krejci said the college aims to have salaries fall in the 60th to 80th percentile nationally. The college has identified faculty pay as a strategic priority and directed more funds to faculty salaries than to other areas, he said.

"It is more and more competitive in our area to land good faculty," Krejci said. "We want to be able to compete."

Dalrymple is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.