Salary negotiation – a guide for faculty members

In the age of inflation, increased competition and an emphasis on adjunct faculty roles, knowing how to effectively negotiate your salary is key

Vanessa Claus 's avatar
8 Nov 2022
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Tips for university faculty on negotiating salary

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Colorado State University Global

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Over the years, various researchers have explored the salary negotiation process, and in academia the process somewhat mirrors that of industry, but there are clear differences to bear in mind. With the cost of living continuing to rise and inflation sky high, it’s important to recognise your worth. Here are some hints and tips I’ve picked up that you might use, or at least bear in mind, when negotiating salaries.

The offer

Congratulations! You’ve received an offer, which is a great step. It’s critical to recognise that the institution wants you. Katie Navarra noted that the cost of recruiting a new candidate can be three to four times the position salary. Now, you have leverage.

Things to remember

It’s not uncommon for smaller, less-prestigious schools to offer smaller salaries. Understanding the cost of living (COL) in the university’s area is key. Consider using a website such as SmartAsset to determine COL details. Is your contract a nine- or 12-month contract? This will influence your compensation. Faculty members wear several hats – what does your offer require (for example, teaching, advising, service, research and so on)?


Let’s pretend that you receive an offer of $65,000 for a nine-month contract and are disappointed. Even if the salary isn’t perfect, recognise that you are wanted. Now, read your offer letter in detail. Is the position solely teaching focused, or does it include a combination of functions? For a teaching role, you need to consider time allotted for office hours, weekly prep time, status of the course (already developed or new) and more. If you think you need to work 60+ hours each week to meet the requirements associated with the contract, then likely the amount offered isn’t worth it. Remember: you are worth a liveable wage.

Ask for more

Never negotiate for what you want. Negotiate for a higher number than you want so that both you and the institution can ideally reach an agreement. However, this rule isn’t always black and white. If you believe you deserve $80,000 (based upon COL, the role, time, effort and so on) and the college is offering you $50,000, coming to an agreement might not be possible. Ask for what you want. But keep in mind that you might not receive what you want.

Default teaching loads, adjunct work and pay scales

Some institutions have default teaching loads for full-time, part-time and/or adjunct employees. Furthermore, some universities have a scale or range that they use to determine faculty pay. For example, it’s not uncommon for adjunct faculty members to be paid per course or per number of students in the course. Therefore, don’t be surprised when non-negotiable ranges or scales are used to determine pay.

Using resources

On websites such as Lightcast, Glassdoor and PayScale, you will likely find honest compensation ranges and averages. If the amount published is much different from what you have been offered, go back to the institution and state your salary desires, plus a few thousand dollars.

Forgetting the benefits

It’s common for people to think only about compensation when they receive an offer, which is problematic. Although a liveable wage is a must, and there are some institutions that don’t provide even that, the benefits offered are also exceptionally important to consider. Maybe your offer allows for travel, provides you with the necessary supplies and equipment needed to ensure your productivity or will grant you the opportunity to work with teaching or graduate assistants who can help lighten your load. In addition to the aforementioned benefits, some institutions offer amazing healthcare, family benefits (for example, low-cost or free tuition for children, spouses and/or immediate family members), sabbaticals after a certain number of years, spousal and partner job appointments, housing allotments and more. Don’t forget these benefits. Sometimes, great benefits can be worth more than a mediocre salary.

Do you really need this job?

All organisations need to offer a fair and liveable salary. Therefore, unless you’re in dire straits or the benefits being offered are incredible, don’t accept a poor wage. Not only is poor compensation linked to decreased motivation, increased stress levels and higher turnover rates, you are also doing other faculty members a disservice by accepting a bad offer.

What’s next?

In the words of Kenny Rogers: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” There’s a time to come to the table to negotiate and a time in which the negotiation most likely won’t work. While it’s important to ask for your desired salary, recognising that there are (internal and external) factors at the institution that can impact if and how negotiation occurs is essential. Ultimately, don’t sell yourself short, but also know when it’s time to walk away from the new role.

There are several factors that can influence your ability to successfully negotiate your salary. Whether you’re a new faculty member or a seasoned instructor looking for a different opportunity, you need to remember your worth, while also keeping your expectations grounded and recognising that compensation is more than a number and can include some amazing benefits, too. Happy negotiating.

Vanessa Claus holds her PhD in human resource development and is a senior faculty associate in the human resource management programmes at Colorado State University Global. In addition to teaching, she enjoys applying her knowledge in practical settings as a business owner, consultant and volunteer.

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