I am working on the latter half of my PhD in mathematics at a mid-ranked university, and I am beginning to think about what kind of career I would like to have after I graduate. I am leaning towards a tenure track job at a more teaching oriented liberal arts college. I am more into the teaching aspect of the job rather than the research aspect of the job. I prefer living the quiet life in a smaller size town, and having fewer students that I can interact with rather than larger classes where I don't get much interaction with students.

However, salary is important to me and when I search online "liberal arts college assistant professor salary" I get conflicting, and some downright scary search results.


  1. Salary genius says:

    The average yearly salary for Liberal Arts College Professor is $36,550. If you are just beginning to work a new job as a Liberal Arts College Professor, you could expect a starting pay rate of $30,100 annually.

  2. Salary.com says:

    How much does a Asst. Professor - Liberal Arts make? The median annual Asst. Professor - Liberal Arts salary is $56,978, as of January 30, 2018, with a range usually between $44,890-$69,846, however this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors.

  3. Wikipedia says:

    Assistant Professor: $45,927 (Lowest Median By Field)

    $81,005 (Highest Median By Field)

    $58,662 (Overall Median)

I am okay with Salary.com's numbers and Wikipedia's. I know that these numbers go up as you get promoted to associate professor and full professor, and I think that somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000+ is a pretty decent starting 9 month salary. But Salary Genius' cited numbers, to me, are an absolute joke for the qualifications required for the job and the amount of time we have put into getting those qualifications.

Question: I am hoping for some responses about what kind of salary I will likely be getting if I get a tenure track job at a smaller liberal arts college in, say, a rural town. What are the actual numbers?

Hopefully I can hear from someone who actually has experience working at these type of institutions.

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    data.chronicle.com Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 5:29
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    In many cases, the salary of faculty at public institutions is a matter of public record and you can look up the information on the internet. Most "liberal arts colleges" are private institutions, but there are lots of public institutions that are similar in size and similar in offering only undergraduate degrees. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 5:33
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    For terminology, I think that most colleges in the US are liberal arts schools. But as used above, is it meant as a contrast to research institutions? This is, is this question about the salary for a math teacher who doesn't have grad students and whatnot?
    – Nat
    Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 7:43
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    For what it's worth, the Salary genius values would be about correct for the mid 1990s in the U.S., but definitely not now. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 8:54
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    Reading my comment again 9 hours later, it occurs to me that what I said would be correct IF "Liberal Arts College Professor" means "Liberal Arts College Assistant Professor". But probably not for "Professor" unspecified, unless the sample that the average is calculated for consists largely of Assistant Professors. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 18:03

2 Answers 2


The AMS does a salary survey with lots of information about math faculty pay by type of school and rank. New hires at schools that only offer bachelors degrees almost all make between 40K-80K with the most common band being 50K-60K.

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    The survey is very useful but it doesn't dive into the data to give details about how salaries vary. There is a lot of variation between salaries at public and private institutions (salaries are often higher at private institutions) and by region. Salaries can be higher in areas with high cost of living, but you might well find that a lower salary in a low cost of living area would be preferable. Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 5:30
  • Thanks Noah, this is helpful. Unfortunately, as Brian Borchers pointed out it doesn't have a good breakdown by region, but it does give me a sense of how much assistant professors are making.
    – Tuo
    Commented Feb 20, 2018 at 22:24

I am a professor of mathematics at a small liberal arts college (SLAC) in Ohio, got my PhD at a SLAC in Connecticut (2700 undergrads, 18 math PhD students), and went to undergrad at a SLAC in Maine. The numbers cited in the OP are lower than the reality at SLACs. Probably they are being brought down by visiting professors (who make slightly less than tenure track professors) and adjuncts (who are paid by the course, a whole lot less than tenure track professors).

Salary is affected by a lot of things, including cost of living, the university's endowment, the university's fame/prestige/rank, and potentially your department (e.g., at some places, a professor of computer science makes more than a professor of literature). When I was hired as a math professor, my salary was higher than all the numbers in the OP except the "highest median by field." By my last year as an assistant professor (when I went for tenure) I was higher than that number too. While SLACs start you at a lower salary than a research institution, your salary grows faster (at least, at a competitive SLAC with a strong endowment). Because salary data from Ohio State University is public, and it's the same city so same cost of living, I checked to compare my salary with folks from there. I see some hired around the same year as I was, and they started off maybe 30% higher (but, always after several years of postdocs, whereas I went straight from PhD into tenure track job), but I overtook them after about 8 years, due to the difference in annual pay raises.

Much more important than the salary, however, is actually wanting the job. As a PhD mathematician, you can make a LOT more than professors at either a SLAC or an R1, if salary is the main concern. The OP is right to focus on the essential things, like wanting to be at a highly relational place, interacting with undergraduates, small classes, more focus on teaching than research, etc. If that's the main concern, then the only essential question about salary is: is this salary enough to live on comfortably in this community? Of course, "comfort" is relative. Most professors at a SLAC have a large enough salary to eventually buy a house, put away money for retirement (TIAA-Cref is awesome), support a family with kids, and retire at 65 years old if they want to.

Lastly, it's worth looking carefully at the other benefits. For example, many SLACs offer a tuition waiver for children of professors, or reduced tuition at other SLACs around the country. Many put money into your retirement every year (in my case, in addition to my salary, the university puts in 10% of the value of my salary into a retirement account; no matching needed). Many offer parental leave. If salary is a big concern, you can always do consulting during the summer months to get more money in the bank. Don't let concerns about the salary prevent you from applying!

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