Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Educating on higher education

I heard a report this morning on the radio that average starting salaries for teachers in the Austin Independent School District was slightly more than $40K. On one hand, I think this is great. I think teachers work very hard and deserve the pay, and having higher starting salaries will attract more people to the profession. The average starting salary for PR folks in Austin is between $28-32K and my students think it's low (of course, unlike teachers, you can get raises pretty quickly and can be making some good money in just a few years). Maybe more people will think about teaching if they felt like they could make decent money.

On the other hand, the story depressed me. Why? Because as a starting university professor I was only making $36K. Middle school teachers with a bachelor's and no experience can make more than I did with a master's and a dozen years of professional experience in the subject area I was teaching. Something is wrong with our educational system, at least our higher ed system.

For years there have been complaints about public schools and pay disparity, yet few have looked at what is going on in higher ed. One of the most eye-opening pieces I've seen on the subject is a documentary, Declining by Degrees. The universities are losing the best and brightest professors and it's the students who suffer.

The director of the School of Journalism & Mass Comm at Texas State continues to encourage me to get my PhD. However, she's using the wrong selling points. She tells me that starting salary for a newly minted PhD is almost $50K. I didn't want to tell her that I was earning that seven years ago and my professional salary right now, without toiling for four years with no life, is quite a bit more than that.

Funding is tighter in higher ed, but the push is to get more students through. It's not easy. And when good teachers, in professional degree programs, begin looking to go outside academia to earn a living, the situation only worsens. You have to wonder what is left.

I loved teaching and think there were some great faculty members. However, the future was somewhat discouraging. When you are in that kind of situation, there are only four options:
  1. Live with it as it is.
  2. Change your own mindset/attitude.
  3. Work to change it from the inside.
  4. Leave the situation.

I couldn't do the first two, try as I might. Not having tenure and given the structure of academia, I wasn't able to do the third thing. That just left me with option 4.

Going forward, I'll continue teaching at the university level as a per class adjunct as long as they will have me. Given the situation, that will be awhile (assuming they offer evening classes). I will be able to reach the students and maybe some day, when they get older, they will work to change the system.

No comments: