Jackson State University's School of Lifelong Learning where the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees hold its monthly meeting. Credit: Molly Minta/Mississippi Today

Faculty at Mississippi universities will see pay raises this coming school year, after the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees approved increased spending on salaries at the regular board meeting Thursday. 

The raises comes as IHL is pursuing pay increases for professors over the next several years, with the goal of bringing salaries to the regional average. Ultimately, the decision of how to spend this additional money, whether through increasing existing faculty pay or hiring additional people, is up to each university.

“The Board has authorized higher salary spending,” said IHL spokesperson Caron Blanton via email. “Whether and how much of that will actually be spent is up to the universities.”

At the IHL board meeting on Thursday, John Pearce, associate commissioner for finance, said IHL appropriated about $57 million for pay raises, which he estimated could amount to an average 4.6% salary increase for faculty at the eight universities.

Last year, Pearce said faculty received an average 2.5% salary increase. 

The funding increases are part of IHL’s six-year plan to bring faculty salaries in line with neighboring states, Pearce said at the meeting. To that end, the IHL will be asking the Legislature for a 6.4% increase in the upcoming fiscal year. 

At the meeting, Alfred Rankins, the IHL commissioner, said he appreciated lawmakers for allocating enough funds to make the pay increase possible. 

“I want to take this opportunity to thank our Legislature for appropriating additional funds to help increase salaries for our faculty and staff on our campuses,” said IHL Commissioner Alfred Rankins. 

Faculty at Mississippi universities are paid far less than their peers in neighboring states. The most recent data from Southern Regional Education Board shows that in 2020, the average salary of faculty at universities with the most doctoral programs was $99,100, while in Mississippi, it was $78,600, the lowest in the region. 

When comparing with faculty salaries for similar universities in neighboring states, the average salary is at least $10,000 more in every state.

Pearce presented this data on Mississippi’s  universities with the most doctoral programs, Mississippi State University, University of Mississippi, and the University of Southern Mississippi, at the board meeting. They focused on these institutions since 80% of faculty in Mississippi teach these three schools.

After the meeting, Blanton provided additional data on comparative salaries for the other Mississippi universities. Jackson State University, where faculty make an average of $63,800, ranks second to last compared to its peers and is also about $10,000 behind most neighboring states. The remaining universities — Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Mississippi University for Women, and Mississippi Valley State University — also rank last in their category, but are closer to some neighboring states. The average faculty salary at those universities is $56,500.   

The comparatively low salaries of professors in Mississippi have made it difficult for universities in the state to recruit and retain faculty. This is an issue at every university in Mississippi, but in general, the regional universities struggle to stay competitive more than the top-tier research universities. 

The highest faculty salaries in Mississippi are offered at the University of Mississippi, where the average tenured professor made about $115,000 during the 2020-21 school year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. (The salary data from IPEDS includes the University of Mississippi Medical Center.) 

The average tenured professor at Mississippi Valley State University made about $64,000, the lowest salary at a state university. 

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Julia, a Louisiana native, covers K-12 education. She previously served as an investigative intern with Mississippi Today helping cover the welfare scandal. She is a 2021 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied journalism and public policy and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. She has also been published in The New York Times and the Clarion-Ledger.

Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on investigating higher education. Originally from Melbourne Beach, Florida, Molly reported on public housing and prosecutors in her home state and worked as a fact-checker at The Nation before joining Mississippi Today. Her story on Mississippi's only class on critical race theory was a finalist for the Education Writers Association National Awards for Education Reporting in 2023 in the feature reporting category.