A new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that the gap between wages for teachers and wages for other college graduates has grown to its highest-ever levels. According to the report, wages for American teachers are now 18.7 percent below the wages of their college-educated peers in other industries. This teacher wage penalty has grown substantially: the teacher wage penalty was just 1.8 percent in 1994, but has since grown to a record 18.7 percent in 2017.
These competitiveness measures are essential to operating a world-class education system. Teacher quality remains the most important in-class factor for student success. Countries with high-performing education systems, such as South Korea, Finland, and Singapore, understand the value of high-quality teachers and prioritize competitive teacher salaries to recruit and retain the best and brightest into the teaching profession.
The report paints a particularly damning picture of teacher pay competitiveness in North Carolina, ranking the state 49th in terms of teacher wage competitiveness. According to their estimates, teacher pay in North Carolina is a whopping 35.5 percent behind pay for other college graduates in the state. Only Arizona offers a less competitive teacher pay package. Compared to simple rankings of state’s average teacher pay, this competitiveness measure paints a more accurate picture of North Carolina’s ability to attract and retain a high-quality teaching force. It is no coincidence that enrollment in North Carolina teacher preparation programs remains well below historical levels.
There is reason to believe that the EPI report might actually underestimate the extent of the teacher pay gap. My own 2016 analysis compared teacher wages against other full-time workers with a college degree. By this measure, U.S. teachers earn just 64 percent of what their full-time, college-educated peers earn. In North Carolina, teachers were found to earn just 57 percent of what other full-time, college-degree-holding North Carolinians earn.
Of course, teachers’ benefit packages tend to be more generous than those received in other industries. But these more valuable healthcare and retirement benefits fail to offset the gaping wage gap faced by teachers. According to EPI’s estimates, benefits only reduce the teacher pay gap by 7.6 percentage points. Even when benefits are accounted for, teacher pay significantly lags pay in other industries, making it more difficult to recruit and retain great teachers.
The report is an important reminder that – despite recent-year pay increases – North Carolina lawmakers must continue to invest in our teaching force if we hope to have a world-class education system. Ultimately, lawmakers must aim beyond simple national averages and instead ensure that our teacher salaries are competitive with the pay offered in other professions.